Venice Boulevard, one of the primary commercial corridors in Mar Vista, will be getting a facelift of sorts in the near future, thanks to a dedicated group of local businesses and residents.
And some of these same business owners are taking advantage of this by proposing the development of a resource that would stimulate, sustain and guide entrepreneurs toward a more profitable future.
A campaign to create a Mar Vista Chamber of Commerce is in its nascent stages, but the response has been encouraging, says Steve Wallace, a Mar Vista resident and a vice president of sales and marketing for a manufacturing company in Torrance.
Wallace credits Rob Kadota, the chair of the Mar Vista Community Council, with formalizing the concept of a chamber of commerce.
ìA few business owners and a couple of members of the Venice Streetscape Improvement Association responsible for Venice Boulevard development have been working behind the scenes to help attract new business to the downtown section of Mar Vista,î Wallace said in a recent interview. ìWe currently have (added) a number of new businesses within the last couple of years, and we are expecting another two new businesses to open within the next three months.î
Starting a new chamber is like opening a new business, says Christina Davis, the president and CEO of the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce in Westchester.
ìOne of the most important things to have in a new chamber is to have some of your communityís strongest business leaders involved, so that you can sustain membership,î Davis told The Argonaut.
Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Mar Vista, has committed to making the dream of bringing a chamber of commerce to the community a reality, said Wallace.
Rosendahl calls Wallace and Demetrios Mavromichalis, who owns the Venice Grind coffeehouse and is a board member of the Mar Vista Farmers Market, ìamazing community leadersî who are relentlessly trying to create a thriving business district in their community.
ìWe believe strongly that a chamber, a downtown business district or a hybrid of the two would make a lot of sense for the downtown area,î the councilman said.
The plan is to establish the chamber in the heart of Mar Vistaís downtown on Venice Boulevard, between Walgrove Avenue and Inglewood Boulevard. A steering committee is in the process of being assembled to explore the ins and outs of creating such an entity.
ìWhenever a community decides to start a chamber of commerce, it should do extensive research, like polling the businesses in the community for their suggestions and developing a business plan,î Davis recommends.
A Mar Vista Chamber of Commerce could be a timely addition to Venice Boulevard and the neighborhood as new commercial and retail enterprises begin to come into the community, said Wallace.
Davis thinks that an organization like a chamber of commerce can invigorate a business community.
ìChambers are wonderful for communities,î the LAX Coastal chamber president added. ìThey have an environment where businesses are pulling together toward common goals.î
Elliot Rubin, a co-owner of the Curious Palate, a Venice Boulevard market that also serves salads and sandwiches, was intrigued by the idea of having a local chamber of commerce.
ìI think that it would be wonderful for public space improvements, like parking issues,î said Rubin, who was not aware of the plan to open a chamber.
Another Mar Vista business owner feels that an organization that could guide businesses and encourage more retail and commercial development could help Mar Vista continue to broaden its profile amid cities like Santa Monica and Culver City.
ìMar Vista is still unknown to a lot of people,î noted Elfie Weiss, the proprietor of HotCakes Bakery on Centinela Avenue. ìA chamber of commerce could bring a lot more awareness to the downtown area.î
Wallace, whose family business, a childrenís clothing boutique, is in Mar Vista, says that he has discussed the idea with some local business owners. In his encounters with his fellow entrepreneurs, he has found seeds of resentment towards the city government and the California Department of Transportation.
ìMany are very disillusioned with Los Angeles and Caltrans regarding the services they currently offer and (the lack of) upkeep on (Venice) Boulevard,î he said. ìOthers are a little reluctant to want to get involved in the early stages, but I think we have the attention of a number of them.î
Wallace says that he has heard from interested parties that would like to open restaurants, bars and other business ventures in Mar Vista, but are unable to secure permits due to the lack of parking.
ìI honestly believe that we can encourage more involvement from business owners to develop a more comprehensive Mar Vista chamber when the city starts to help with issues like parking and getting basic essentials like trash cans and tree trimming,î he asserted. ìHowever, until Caltrans relinquishes Venice Boulevard to Los Angeles, there is not a great deal we can do.î
Rosendahl said that his office has been working with the transportation agency to be more receptive to his constituentsí concerns.
ìCaltrans has been one of my biggest challenges,î the councilman acknowledged. ìTrying to get them to relinquish Venice Boulevard has been very difficult.î
Davis said that she has seen increased membership and participation in Westchester during the turbulent economic downturn.
ìWeíre seeing phenomenal attendance,î she said. ìPeople are taking advantage of the services that we provide.î
She believes that with the proper planning, Mar Vista could see similar results.
While he is excited about the possibility of an entity that could draw more economic stimulus to the area, Rosendahl says that starting a chamber or business improvement district is still in its early stages.
ìItís way too soon to see what will emerge out of all of the planning,î he cautioned.
Rubin, who opened his business four months ago, was open to the possibility that a chamber of commerce could invigorate Mar Vistaís main commercial artery.
ìI would love to see downtown improve its look,î he said. ìIf a (chamber of commerce) could help continue that progress, that would be wonderful.î