Wheely Cool Bikes
After graduating high school, Mitchell Azevedo did not want a typical job. “Fixed-gear bikes were really popular back then. So I started buying and selling used fixed-gear bikes,” Azevedo said. “I enjoy it. It provided a more cost-friendly way for people to acquire them and ride around.” Gradually, Azevedo said he shifted away from fixed-gears to road bikes, which have more gears, are lighter weight and are more efficient. This shift marked the beginning of Wheely Cool Bikes, now located at 2300 Walnut Ave., Suite A, in Signal Hill. Azevedo, pictured with his partner Denise Yavas, opened his road bike showroom in December 2016. The two owners employ one mechanic who works on the bikes and provides repair services to customers. Each bike in the showroom is also available for rent, according to Azevedo. To purchase a road bike, customers must make an appointment to visit the shop, which also accepts trade-ins for store credit. “The reason we do by appointment only is because it’s sort of a big commitment spending this amount of money on a bike. Road bikes are more expensive than your typical bikes,” Azevedo said. “So I want to have that one-on-one time with the customer and make sure that I get them what they need.” For more information, visit www.wheelycoolbikes.com.
Fromex Photo & Digital
After being located on 2nd Street in Long Beach’s Belmont Shore for decades, John Albright relocated his film processing and printing company to Signal Hill. Fromex Photo & Digital reopened at 2699 E. 28th St., Unit 405, in January. “Our business has become so much more e-commerce business. A majority of our business comes in online and through the mail,” Albright said. “So being down on 2nd Street, the retail walk-in traffic wasn’t as important as it once was. So this has worked out very well for us.” Albright and his eight employees print photos of all sizes, from wallets to 40-by-60-inch prints; process film; scan prints, slides, film and photos; and print on canvas and aluminum. The company also does custom framing and mounting, along with other odds and ends such as life-size cutouts, headshots – basically anything photo related, with half of the business coming from out of state. “To me, personally, the whole photo processing industry is fun. Dealing with mixing chemicals, dealing with optics and physics and math and everything else, it’s just amazing how much technology is involved in here that keeps it interesting,” Albright said. “I still enjoy doing it. So here I am at a time in my life where I should be retiring, but I’m still having fun.” For more information, visit www.fromex.com.
In 1994, Neena Strichart entered the newspaper world selling advertisements for The Signal, where she also had a small column and snapped the occasional photograph. From there, she moved on to sell ads for the Press-Telegram. “How do I say this? . . . It wasn’t a good match for me,” Strichart said. “So I left and was doing some marketing for former clients, including press releases, helping them design and placing ads in papers for them.” After a conversation with her mother, Strichart decided to branch out on her own. With the acquisition of two papers (The Signal and the Signal Hill Tribune), she began publishing the Signal Tribune in her dining room. The paper is now located at 939 E. 27th St. in Signal Hill. It has a staff of 11 – not including Strichart and her husband – and has a circulation of 25,000 (soon to be 30,000) papers throughout Long Beach and Signal Hill. “I love being able to cover local stories. We’re not just full of press releases. We have a staff that cares. Money is lovely, but that is not our number one goal. Our goal is to give the readers what they need, give the advertisers what they need and move forward from there. We love what we do.” For more information, visit www.signaltribunenewspaper.com.
Age of Aquariums
Marine biologist Dan Gilboa opened his aquarium design and service company, Age of Aquariums, in 1988 to earn extra cash while working for the Long Beach Water Department. Eventually, the business grew to the point where he could leave the water department. “I’ve always had a passion for keeping tropical fish growing up, which led to my choice of majors at school,” Gilboa said. “It’s my business ever since.” In 2008, Gilboa expanded his business by opening a retail store at 2642 Cherry Ave. in Signal Hill. Between the two divisions, Gilboa and his 14 employees design, build, install and service custom aquariums ranging from 50 to 5,000 gallons, as well as sell basic tanks along with everything from filtration systems to food and even the livestock – freshwater and saltwater fish, living coral and freshwater aquatic plants. “The most rewarding part is seeing kids come in and get all excited about the animals. No matter if you have a betta [fish] in a small one-gallon bowl or you have a 5,000-gallon aquarium, the bottom line is always keeping the animal alive and the passion for the animal. You’re not just doing it to have a vessel of water there, you’re doing it to enjoy the animals.” For more information, visit www.ageofaquariums.biz.
Luke Hiller Incorporated
About 10 years ago, after being located in Long Beach for 35 years, Luke Hiller moved his staircase and flooring company to 1894 Freeman Ave. in Signal Hill. Hiller learned his woodworking skills refinishing furniture at Wood Right Shop in Long Beach before opening his company that focuses on hardwood floors. “We do a lot of historical restoration in Long Beach,” Hiller said. “We do both ranchos, and we did the Bembridge House and places like that.” In addition to new and restored floors, Luke Hiller Incorporated does demolition and removal of hardwood floors and surface preparation for other contractors in Southern California. The company has 10 employees and is well known for its ability to recreate the patina of old-world flooring, according to Hiller. “I think one of the interesting things about the business is the different types of architecture. I’m a big fan of architecture, especially the types of architecture that are considered more historical,” Hiller said. “We get excited when we are doing a re-creation or working on a property that’s trying to hit a certain look that’s based on local architecture from 50, 60, 70, 80, up to 100 years old.” For more information, visit www.lukehillerinc.com.
Restaurateurs John and Debbie Toman took over Curley’s Cafe at 1999 E. Willow St. in Signal Hill at the beginning of 2012. The restaurant and bar was first established in the city in 1932 when oil derricks covered the hill. John recalled when he and his brother-in-law first visited the Signal Hill staple for a meal to determine if it was a good investment: “We saw it as a fixer-upper that had real good bones and real good staff.” After good food and service, John said he was sold. The couple renovated the cafe, remodeling the bathrooms and giving the interior a facelift, taking care not to alter it too much. They now have 15 employees working the restaurant, which has a slightly younger crowd today due in part to the craft beer selection and healthier food options. However, classics such as the chili are still served – completely unchanged. “We’ve got all the old pictures and a lot of history in there,” John said. “We’ve got people that still come sit at the bar looking for somebody to tell their story of 40 years ago [to]. That’s pretty cool. It’s just an old-school place where you get great food.” For more information, call 562/424-0018.
Thirteen years ago, after owning and operating Bill’s Top Shop, a convertible top restoration store founded by her great-grandfather in 1929, Patty VanWinkle found herself in the pet food business in Signal Hill. Pet Pantry has been located at 2801 Cherry Ave. for about three and a half years. “The reason I got in the pet business is because there is a lot of pet food out there that is below average and is causing cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, heart attacks and tumors,” VanWinkle said. “Cancer is up over 33% in dogs, and diabetes is off the wall.” Operated by VanWinkle and two volunteers, the store focuses on dog and cat food products that do not contain corn, wheat, soy, white rice or sugar, as well as other dog- and cat-related items such as American-made flea medication, shampoo, treats, frozen food, bones and other goodies. “Here at this store, we sell food at very affordable prices that you don’t find at very many stores, because I’m very anal about what goes into all of my friends’ furry little family members,” VanWinkle said. “This is not for money. This is not my living. I don’t need this store. This store is for the animals – period.” For more information, call 562/989-1929.
*All photographs by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan