I have often thought about how wonderful having a real Mercado would be in the City of Long Beach.
Sometimes folks think too “high tech” when what people really want is down to earth and accessible. We keep building steel and glass structures that just shout out “expensive”. We need approachable, affordable, inviting small cluster business development right here and right now.
We have a Downtown Mall which has failed through 4 iterations. No matter what they have done the place just never has taken off. This is privately owned property, so we will need to get a “buy-in” from the owner, but I think this idea is so fantastic that he would jump on it in a minute especially if the City partnered with him to make the very affordable “improvements” necessary for the Mercado concept to work.
We used to be called “The International City”. Let’s revive that title.
Please vision this along with me: Think of the property from 3rd Street to 6th Street, Pine Ave to Alamitos Ave. (We had a Walmart and a Nordstrom’s Rack there). That is the space I am talking about. Right now is its ghost town with Ross Dress for Less as a meager anchor store. The few restaurants we have are struggling as are all the other service industry operations in town. Yet this area has some incredible advantages. LARGE PARKING structure. Wow, that is so important.
Already This area is mapped out and configured like a semi-outdoor shopping area. Wide sidewalks, and limited car traffic. Now let’s start imagining. Keep 3rd Street open for traffic, so we have easy access. Keep Pine, 6th Street, and Alamitos accessible. But close off all interior streets for pedestrian-only. With our new lowered business licenses, our kiosk licenses, and our peddling licenses, we create an outdoor and indoor shopping extravaganza.
Let’s create metal arches from one side of the street to the other from the tops of the buildings. Ideally, we would do this in the glass but since we are in economically hard times let’s just use white canvas. For the record, we have a great company on Alamitos and 3rd Street who do canvas fabrication. So it would be great to keep the money local for this concept. Give them the task of making the panels (we need panels so that if one rips we don’t need to remake the entire thing.) The life for canvas awning structures is about 7 years depending upon the strength of the prevailing winds. String our signature Long Beach Blue lighting from the beams of the arches, and put in sparkle lights in blue and white as we do at Christmas time. Make this place festive and make it “Long Beach” by color.
Can’t you see the kiosks (like rectangular movable wagons) with wooden fold-down flaps to secure the kiosk at night with padlocks etc.) These kinds of operations are found all over the globe, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Hawaii, Hong Kong, India, etc. They are very successful and sell things from small souvenirs to ruby and gold rings. The variety of goods sold in Kiosks can be amazing. Picture it… Pashmina shawls, ties, gold chains, crystal sculptures, lava lavas, etc. What a grand extent of goods we could sell. Peddling carts, very movable, going through the Mercado, selling fresh pineapple, oranges, mangos, dragon fruit, passion fruit, blender drinks, iced coffee. The ideas are endless.
We have some large empty spaces which will not be rented for the next 20 years unless we come up with a great concept. Why not divide up the Walmart space into booths? Have winding alleys throughout the space so people can walk through the various individual shops. We might make this into the largest indoor antique mall in Southern California. Long Beach has always been known for the cheapest thrift store in Southern California. Let’s create the wonder of the region with low rents (which pile up too high rents for the owner) great variety and lots of turn-over.
For another building, we can do a similar venue for clothing. Designer clothing to original Long Beach artist designs. We have so much talent here that this would be easily populated. Another building simply for original artwork. We have fabulous artists throughout the City and this would be a premier setting to display and sell their work. I also suggest we have a “Go Long Beach” store, selling T-shirts, belts, caps, jackets, scarfs, keychains, bracelets, etc. with our Long Beach Logo on them. Let this be owned and run by the City so that all proceeds go to support the administration of the Mercado.
When our cruise ships come back when the COVID -19 thing is over, we will have a place for folks to shop. That means we need to work on this concept now. Let’s get prepared for the return of tourists. How fantastic this idea is. Think about a group of people getting off the ship, getting in a local shuttle bus to the Mercado (like in Cabo San Lucas), folks getting out, shopping, and sightseeing, then getting hungry and going right down the street to Pine Ave and all our Restaurants. This would be an incredible symbiotic retail conglomeration. It would finally provide a shopping venue for tourists while inviting locals to experience the vibe. We could also use the shuttle to navigate through the East Village Arts District to bolster business there.
I also propose live music and dancing in the cross streets of the Mall. Perhaps we should build a large stage for performances. Think of all the great diverse cultural dancing we have here in the City. Mexican, Samoan, Hawaiian, Cambodian, etc. People would love such an entertainment experience. In fact, I suggest we have performances every couple of hours on the weekends for the crowds that will be attracted to our new Mercado Shopping Paradise.
This would be the first real retail extravaganza in Long Beach since we lost the Buffums Department Store. We can do this, and we should. What a great partnership between the 2nd and the 1st Districts of Long Beach. Helping each other to create jobs and new sustainable revenue for our City.
Roll this around in your head for a while and see if you can come up with even more exciting ideas that might work in a Downtown Mercado in Long Beach.