Will Long Beach be the Grinch who steals Christmas from Broadway Corridor’s small businesses?

BLUFF HEIGHTS — Mina Barnes says this Christmas shopping season might be the worst one ever for her 20-year-old small business because the City of Long Beach refuses to delay a controversial Broadway Corridor construction project that will ruin her business.

Like many small business owners, Barnes, who owns Visionary Artware — an art gallery and gift shop just east of Temple Avenue — counts on the vital holiday shopping season to help her stay in business.

For example, Visionary Artware generates about 80 percent of its annual revenue from Halloween to the first of  the year, Barnes said.

Ruining Christmas shopping?

But this season, will Long Beach be the Grinch who steals Christmas from small businesses on Broadway?

The city has scheduled a major Broadway Corridor construction project that will not only restrict parking, but also close part of the street to traffic. The construction in the area would adversely impact people wanting to shop at Barnes’ store and other businesses along Broadway.

“It’s terrible. It’s ridiculous. It’s bullshit,” Barnes, 58, said during an interview at her art studio, which is located at the back of her art gallery. “Long Beach is not small business friendly. They didn’t consult at all with us.

“To consider construction during the holiday shopping season is wrong and shameful,” she said. “It will close us down.”

The problem is avoidable, she said.

“The construction needs to be delayed until January,” Barnes said. “No negotiations.”

Visionary Artware Long Beach

Mina Barnes, with her cat, Lathe, inside her Visionary Artware gift shop, is upset that the City of Long Beach has scheduled a major construction project along the Broadway Corridor during the holiday shopping season, but did not consult with small businesses about the potential havoc it could wreck. Photo: Q Voice News

Awful timing

The $2.5 million Broadway Corridor “revitalization “construction project, which is funded by the Measure A sales tax increase, extends from Alamitos to Redondo avenues. Crews started in June at Alamitos Avenue and have installed new sidewalks, curbs, and street gutters as they make their way east to Redondo Avenue.

That stretch of Broadway also will be reconfigured to eliminate two lanes of traffic and replace them with bike lanes in each direction.

The city has said the intention is to create a “pedestrian village to the corridor through traffic calming measures, improved bicycle network connections.”

Construction was supposed to last from June 1 to October 22, according to signs posted on Broadway near Alamitos and Redondo avenues; however, the project is behind schedule.

The final construction phase, it’s divided into three, would stretch from Molino to Redondo avenues and is scheduled to begin October 26 and finish in early or mid-December, if everything goes perfect.

That schedule would kill holiday shopping for small businesses along that part of the Broadway Corridor, Barnes and other business owners said.

They have asked why their portion of Broadway wasn’t completed first, instead of last, on the project schedule, which would have had far less impact on their businesses.

Neither City Councilwoman Jeannie Pearce nor anybody in the Department of Public Works will answer that question, said Barnes and other business owners.

Merry's Long Beach

Merry Colvin stands outsider her fashion boutique Merry’s with Humphrey, the shop mascot. Colvin worries that the City of Long Beach’s plan to undertake a major construction project along the Broadway Corridor in front of her business will wreck havoc on the Christmas holiday shopping season for the local small businesses. Photo: Q Voice News

Bah humbug attitude

They also said that city officials have shown a bah humbug attitude to their complaints.

In an interview, Alvin Papa, the acting city engineer, dismissed the concerns from Barnes and her fellow small business owners.

“It’s tough to keep everybody happy,” he said.

In a separate interview, Craig Beck, public works director, said the department wants to finish the construction as quickly as it can.

“We will work closely with the businesses to minimize impact,” he said. “I recognize there are impacts with construction.”

‘Nobody talked with us’

Barnes and other business owners along Broadway dispute Beck’s claim that business owners have been contacted.

“Nobody came and talked to me. Why didn’t they consult with us?” Barnes said. “Obviously, they didn’t want to hear what we had to say. You don’t do road construction during the holiday shopping season. It’s not brain surgery.

“There isn’t a retailer on this planet who would say that construction in front of my building, across from my building, or in my area during the holiday shopping season would be OK,” Barnes said.

Merry Colvin, 74, owns Merry’s, a 13-year-old fashion boutique on Broadway just west of Temple Avenue. Her store resembles a Middle Eastern bazaar. She sells authentic, traditional clothing, jewelry, and accessories from Morocco, Nepal, India, among other faraway lands.

Outside her front door, Humphrey, a life-size metal camel, welcomes customers into her shop.

Colvin, whose business generates 75 percent of its revenue during the Christmas shopping season, is just as worried as Barnes is about the construction.

“We love that Broadway is getting some attention,” Colvin said. “But not at Christmas.”

Visionary Artware Long Beach

Visionary Artware on Broadway just east of Temple Avenue is a gift shop, art gallery, and art studio. Owner Mina Barnes teaches classes on how to make mosaics. Photo: Q Voice News.

Concerns dismissed

Councilwoman Pearce also brushes off the Barne’s and Colvin’s concerns. She said parking during construction should not be a problem.

“Construction work is done by 4 p.m. each day and most people do shopping after work,” Pearce said. “Parking in the afternoon will not be an issue.”

Barnes scoffs.

“Construction will scare people away and a lack of parking will keep people away from the area,” she said.

“I’m open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. for a reason,” she said. “Like many small businesses, I have customers who shop throughout the day.”

Pearce and other city officials said numerous “accommodations” have been to “minimize impacts” on the businesses.

Pearce also said it’s “a little frustrating that these concerns about being brought up at the last minute.”

What’s frustrating, Barnes, Colvin, and other business owners said, is that the idea that any “accommodations” were made to businesses is misleading because the city failed to consult with small business. For example, business owners were not invited to any construction-planning meetings, and the businesses along Broadway didn’t learn about the construction schedule until the 11th hour, they said.

Merry's Long Beach

Merry’s, a 13-year-old fashion boutique on Broadway just west of Temple Avenue, resembles a Middle Eastern bazaar. She sells authentic, traditional clothing, jewelry, and accessories from Morocco, Nepal, India, among other faraway lands. Photo: Q Voice News

‘Kick us into the grave’

Colvin says she has called Pearce’s office and the public works department numerous times since the spring, asking about the construction schedule, but never received any information.

“In the course of planning this project, nobody from the City Council, public works, or the construction company doing the work thought, This construction will hurt the holiday shopping season. This is a bad idea.

“We need to tell them that?” Colvin said. “Long Beach tries to brand itself as the business friendly city. What a joke.”

Standing outside her shop, Colvin says people already are avoiding the area due to the ongoing Broadway construction happening a few blocks west of her shop.

“It’s been a slow year. We are counting on the holiday season to help us,” Colvin said. “But the city wants to kick us into the grave.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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