LONG BEACH — A study commissioned by the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce has confirmed what many city officials say they have suspected all along: Despite ambitious redevelopment efforts aimed at promoting the growth of retail business in the city, many Long Beach residents still do their shopping out of town.
According to the study by five graduate students at the University of Southern California, many retail areas in Long Beach have "fallen into decline and are plagued with high crime rates or are perceived to be unsafe areas to do business in." The study also reported that "many areas are in need of cosmetic repairs and updating and would benefit substantially from a uniform theme or motif."
The study--which took the students of the Graduate School of Business Administration eight months to complete and was supervised by a faculty member--suggested the need for more major department stores in the city, most notably Nordstrom, Robinson's, Bullock's and May Company.
"People have for quite some time been indicating there is a (retailing) problem" in Long Beach, said Matthew Faulkner, vice president of business and economic development for the chamber. "We wanted to document it. As far as I know this is the first study of this magnitude. I think it will have a significant impact."
A. Roy Menzies, director of the management internship program at USC and a senior lecturer in marketing who oversaw production of the 51-page report, said the project cost the chamber $2,500 in the form of a scholarship donation to the university's Graduate School of Business Administration. Faulkner also said the chamber will pay about $2,500 more in actual expenses associated with the project.
The researchers determined that almost one-third of the city's residents do most of their shopping in places such as Cerritos and Orange County rather than in the city's own retail shopping areas.
Conclusions were based on written questionnaires completed by 125 consumers and 70 retailers, as well as interviews in shopping areas, conversations with city officials and subjective on-site judgments made by researchers. The study determined that residents shop out-of-town because of five major factors--proximity, safety, atmosphere, quality of merchandise and selection of stores--that they found lacking in Long Beach retailing areas. The study concluded with a site-by-site analysis of Long Beach shopping areas and specific suggestions on how their competitiveness might be im proved.
"It focuses on a direction the chamber must go," said Casey Williams, an account executive for Long Beach Business Magazine, published by the Chamber. Casey said the chamber is planning a series of get-togethers for local business people as part of a new push to unify retailers to improve business.
One of the surprises of the study, Casey said, was that 62% of the consumer respondents said they avoided Shoreline Village--a 3-year-old shopping development near the downtown marina--because of its poor "atmosphere" and lack of safety, while retailers working in the area overwhelmingly reported positive perceptions of the same factors.
The study attributes the discrepancy to the development's marketing as a tourist attraction rather than as one aimed at local residents and shoppers, and suggests that results might have been different had tourists been polled.
Village in High-Crime Area
According Long Beach Police Department statistics, Shoreline Village is within a larger area that is ranked as a high-crime zone. However, the shopping center itself has had a less-than-average number of incidents of violence.
Other areas perceived as unsafe by consumer respondents were Long Beach Boulevard, Pine Street and the downtown Long Beach Plaza.
In contrast, consumers gave the Los Altos Shopping Center, across town, the highest rating with regard to safety.
And they generally expressed the most loyalty to retail outlets in Belmont Shore, which has less freeway access than other sites in the study.
Overall, consumers expressed the desire for more department and discount stores in the city, as well as boutiques and specialty shops. They also said they would like to see more restaurants, entertainment, convenient parking and higher quality merchandise.
City officials say they welcome the USC study as an important contribution to a problem they have been dealing with for years.
'Helpful' Outside Viewpoint
"It's always useful to have different perspectives on problems and issues," said Roger Anderman, director of community development for the city. "Having an outside point of view is helpful."
In an effort to attract more shoppers to the downtown area, he said, the city is conducting its own study to determine the best use of the old Sears site--12.5 acres on Long Beach Boulevard--as well as the promenade near the Long Beach Plaza.
Elsewhere in the city, he said, officials are working to attract developers interested in creating neighborhood shopping centers and to find sites large enough to accommodate major discount and department stores.
Mayor Ernie Kell, in fact, said he plans to set up a task force within two weeks to look at the issue of retailing in Long Beach. Those responsible for the survey say they hope it will help.
"It pointed out some key factors that the people in Long Beach were apparently unaware of," Menzies said. "What we sought primarily was a selling tool for the chamber to show prospective retailers that there is a need for them in that city."