Search DC's Musings

Monday, October 5, 2009

Transforming A Community: Blair Cohn

Friday night we did something we would not have thought about doing a couple of years ago: we spent the evening strolling Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls with friends for other parts of the city and their kids. At Expo the kids had their faces painted like Zombies (or Pandas), there were hot dogs and costumes for a buck. Up and down the street businesses had full tables, music and entertainment and the sidewalks were full of local neighbors and visitors from Belmont Shore, Los Altos, Downtown, North Long Beach, Wrigley. Bixby Knolls was a destination for Long Beach as everyone came to participate in First Fridays, an on going event on Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls that occurs...yes the first Friday of every month. What better way to spend a Friday than to walk around with your kids painted in black theater make-up? Not many!

When Leslie and I moved into Bixby Knolls in August 1998 we had few options available for groceries, restaurants, entertainment and shopping. Slowly the area attracted some big chains, most notably O.S.H. and then the home run: Trader Joes.

Now we can walk to get groceries, we have three chain coffee stores we can visit within a block, sushi, burgers and beer, Lebanese, salons, and upscale ice cream all populate our local area of Bixby Knolls. But more important that than range of retail and restaurant opportunities available to us is the visiting that is occuring in the areas. We have a neighborhood that is engaged and supportive of our local businesses and businesses that are supportive of our local neighborhoods. Bixby Knolls is becoming more and more cohesive as a community. And for this we can thank one man: Blair Cohn.

Cohn is the Executive Director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association. The BKBIA has been around for a while but has not had any significant impact on the area until Cohn came in as Executive Director. Cohn's hands are all over the BKBIA and its constant outreach to local neighborhoods to get residents and businesses engaged. In an economy when many businesses, big and small, are closing up shop, in Bixby Knolls we are seeing new businesses opening and existing businesses, while perhaps not thriving are staying open. When there are closings we here that it is more about leases and landlords than a decline in business. With the vibrancy of the area and the growth that is occuring landlords are using the opportunity to lift rents on long time tenants.

What has happened in Bixby Knolls? Cohn has brought to the BKBIA that the best way for the members of the BKBIA to survive and thrive was to capture the local residents as customers, loyal customers. How to do this? Cohn has developed with the assistance of his board of directors a litany of events throughout the year to attract not only local residents but visitors from all over the city to Bixby Knolls. Once here the visitors see and experience the great restaurants and shops, and hopefully return for their purchases and dining.

Here is a partial list of the events that are part of the Bixby Knolls scene these days:
First Fridays As mentioned this monthly event has local businesses staying open late, many have live music, many have activities for the kids and it is a wonderful evening strolling, seeing friends, sampling Bixby Knolls.
Bixby Knolls Strollers Meet every Saturday morning for a long walk around neighborhoods in the area, showing the different areas of Bixby Knolls and connecting neighbors to each other. What better way to make a new friend than to walk a couple of miles and have a meandering conversation?
Literacy Society a monthly book club where residents get together to discuss that month's book and once again the opportunity to meet each other and build new relationships.
Happy Hour Again once a month, the BKBIA holds a "Happy Hour" inviting residents and other business owners to visit a BKBIA business to learn about the business, meet other area businesses and residents and to learn about a local non-profit.
Monthly Supper Club Another event that is monthly, this one the first Monday of every month where a local restaurant is selected to host the Supper Club. It gives the restaurants a chance to host new guests and residents a chance to experience a restaurant they perhaps have not been to before.

These are just the regular events that Cohn has established. In addition there are events at the Expo building, a former furniture store that the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency has opened to the BKBIA for events and gatherings. Upcoming is a Jazz night, there are art exhibits and live music throughout the year.

Bixby Knolls is a vibrant, active, engaged and friendlier place because of Blair Cohn. As time goes by many may try to take credit for the resurrection of this part of our city, and to be truthful Cohn cannot do everything himself. It is very apparent however, that prior to Cohn's arrival at the BKBIA there was nothing happening in this part of town. Sure we got our TJ's and some local developers had redeveloped a few sites, but there was no cohesion and no sense of togetherness that exists today. While politicians and city officials gave lip service to the area about improvements, and we have had Atlantic repaved, there was no cohesion nor support between the two groups. For the first eight to nine years we lived in the area we saw incremental and traditional changes--new retail development, empty stores, people driving through. Now we see empty stores displaying art work. We see new businesses geared to children. We see restaurants and shops with cars in front and patrons inside. This activity coincides with Cohn's arrival, coincidence? Hardly.

As a resident of the area I extend my heartfelt thanks to Blair and all his efforts to engage and connect our local businesses and residents to each other for a healthier and happier community. Taking a seemingly simple plan, create simple events that regularly bring together residents and businesses, Cohn has created a community that has come together. With pride when asked where we are from we say, "Bixby Knolls of course!"

Thanks Blair!

Visit the BKBIA Site to learn more about the business association and the events coming up in Bixby Knolls: Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association

No comments: