Based on the current state of the retail market in Downtown Long Beach, when will it fully recover from the pandemic?
That is the question.
According to the latest DLBA quarterly Snapshot Report (3Q 2021), many signals of a Downtown retail market recovery are flashing green, such as increases in occupancy, parking, pedestrian traffic and rents. Since 2017, DLBA has created quarterly market reports providing insight to the community – local leaders, business owners, potential entrepreneurs, investors – with detailed information about Downtown’s real estate climate and economy.
Most retail market analysts, however, believe the next 12 to 18 months are likely to be unpredictable, with no straight-line growth trajectory due to the reality of navigating uncharted waters of this once-in-a-generation health crisis. Changing mask mandates and proof of vaccine and testing requirements have forced businesses to repeatedly pivot to stay in compliance. This has been especially challenging for many food and bar scene operators who are struggling to survive.
“DLBA has been proactive over the past year in developing critical lifelines for local businesses that were severely crunched from the dual impacts of the pandemic and losses due to civil unrest,” said DLBA COO, Broc Coward. “It’s great that the retail market appears to be stabilizing, but there is much more work to be done to support our Downtown business community.”
“Looking forward, we will continue efforts to drive economic recovery efforts and go well beyond as noted in our new strategic plan framework. Based on recent community input, we have updated priorities for the next three to five years that will ensure Downtown Long Beach is more prosperous, inclusive, safe and clean for all.”
According to the recent Snapshot report on ground floor retail, following the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, significantly decreased sales and traffic to in-person retailers, restaurants, and services were some of the most observable changes to Downtown. However, since bottoming out in Q2 2020, retail sales have grown an average of 20 percent every quarter, accompanied by an increase in visitor traffic.
15 Initiatives, $400K
To help the local community through the previous year, DLBA developed and implemented 15 initiatives that included more than $400,000 in available grants, funds and programs. In collaboration with community partners, the much-needed lifelines helped many local small businesses including those operating throughout the Property Business Improvement District (PBID). This included advocating for specially designed programs like the City’s Open Streets initiative as well as launching a range of marketing and communication efforts to keep everyone connected.
Here are more specific details of six major DLBA initiatives developed to assist the Downtown business community through the last several months:
- Storefront Recovery Program – Thanks to generous donations from Zwift, Waterford Property Company and Panattoni Development Company, DLBA provided $40,000 as immediate financial aid to Downtown businesses affected by theft and damage during the night of May 31, 2020. Recipients included coffee shops, hardware stores, nail salons, health care providers, restaurants, tattoo parlors, markets, salons, and several other business types.
- Microgrants – Grants of about $30,000 were made available to businesses forced to shut down due to local health orders regarding the pandemic.
- Outdoor Dining Reimbursement Program – DLBA provided financial relief to Downtown Long Beach bars, breweries, distilleries, restaurants, and wineries with 100% matching funds up to $10,000 for an individual establishment. The funding was made possible by the City of Long Beach, which earmarked funding for BIDs using the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act grant it received from the State of California and County of Los Angeles.
- Personal Care Services and Health & Wellness Grant – DLBA provided a boost, $90,000, to a range of businesses not protected by any other state or local relief programs. Unlike DLBA’s previous grants which were open to all businesses, this economic recovery grant was designed specifically to help businesses that were completely shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic due to public health orders.
- The grant made a big impact for small business owners. “It’s been a roller coaster, to say the least: a really scary time,” said grant recipient Cody Ramirez, owner and operator of Americano Barber Co. in Downtown’s East Village. “We closed three different times. This grant is helping a lot,” he said during the program.
- The grant program also helped Outer Limits Tattoo owner Kari Barba, a world-renowned tattoo artist whose business dates back to Bert Grimm’s World Famous Tattoo which opened in 1927, making it the oldest continuously-run tattoo parlor in the U.S. “Our first reopening last year was short,” Barba said. “We were shut down again, 10 days later. We were shut down for almost 11 months over the past year. During the closures, we artists had to fend for ourselves. The grant money will be a huge help, covering a big chunk of back rent and bills.”
- Advocacy for Open Streets – From the beginning, DLBA advocated to create a critical lifeline for several food and beverage businesses in the form of temporary parklets, outdoor dining spaces. The team also proactively conducted surveys to help measure the community’s view of the Long Beach Open Streets initiative in Downtown. The survey results offered city administrators, policymakers and the general public a perspective on the program. It helped the team advocate for a policy that expedites reopening our economy while still maintaining a controlled quality of life through the pandemic for our Downtown community. An extension of the Open Streets Initiative, unanimously passed by Long Beach City Council, remains in effect until June 30, 2022.
- Communications and Marketing Programs – Since the beginning of the pandemic, DLBA proactively reached out to the business community to provide key information and updates on the Downtown. This included the following:
- Hosted weekly webinars on accessing pandemic related resources
- Distributed a bi-weekly Business Resource Newsletter proving key updates on available financial resources, programs and educational tools
- Expanded the P.A.C.E. program from 4 to 16 sessions a month to provide business development advisement
- Created Dine Out Shop DTLB, with intuitive maps to promote shopping in Downtown
- Provided several gift card giveaways to highlight local businesses
Snapshot market and economic reports are available on the DLBA Website: Snapshot. The next report detailing the residential market is expected in mid-January 2022.