LONG BEACH — It began as a satirical lark.
Frustrated by what they perceived as the inordinate attention paid to businesses on this city's trendy Pine Avenue, a group of friends associated with establishments on other downtown streets decided to form an organization of their own.
"Where Pine Avenue ends NOPA begins," read their press release earlier this month announcing the new association of merchants, restaurateurs, retailers and artisans called Not On Pine Avenue.
Among other things, the release said, the group planned to hold daily mixers. Business licenses would be required at the door to eliminate infiltrators from Pine Avenue. "We feel that all businesses Not On Pine Avenue (are) being ignored," the release said.
In a jab at the perceived pomposity of the city's two other downtown business organizations, NOPA gave its "rulership" the titles of supreme ruler, high foundress, supreme consort, princess publicity and director artisticus.
Merchants Feel Left Out
But some people took the announcement seriously.
Nearly a dozen expressed interest in joining the new club. Now its organizers, realizing that they have struck a chord among downtown merchants who feel left out of the city's redevelopment hoopla, vow to continue their efforts, although they are not sure how.
"We think it's time to begin promoting the whole downtown area rather than just one part of it," said Fredrik Sante, president of a Cedar Avenue promotional consulting firm. He is listed on the NOPA letterhead as director artisticus.
Said Karen Riley, the group's princess publicity: "There is more to downtown business and downtown life than Pine Avenue."
Associate editor of a monthly newspaper published by the Downtown Long Beach Associates--a city-sponsored organization to which most downtown merchants belong--Riley says she sees no conflict between her job and her role in NOPA. The associates have traditionally shouldered responsibility for promoting businesses downtown.
That preeminence was challenged last year when the Pine Avenue Merchants Assn. was formed by DLBA members who, ironically, were themselves complaining that the older organization had not promoted Pine sufficiently.
Touting the avenue as a trendy Melrose-type district capable of attracting large numbers of upscale customers, the association is generally credited with enhancing the image of Pine Avenue over the past eight months. But in the process, NOPA members say, businesses located elsewhere in the downtown area have been overlooked or excluded.
"It seems that the (existing) business organizations are kind of smug," Sante said. "Businesses not on Pine Avenue are not being represented." As evidence, NOPA members point to the many major downtown parades and celebrations centered on Pine, as well as the frequent business promotions held there.
Unfair Share Denied
Spokesmen for both the DLBA and the Pine Avenue Merchants Assn. deny that Pine Avenue gets more than its fair share of attention.
DLBA President Bill Gurzi said his organization has never singled out Pine Avenue businesses for special consideration and, in fact, said he argued as late as last week against a plan that would have routed the Centennial closing parade exclusively along Pine Avenue.
Although he doesn't take NOPA too seriously, Gurzi said, its members are welcome to promote their businesses in whatever way they can. "Everyone is responsible for their own piece of the action," he said. "We serve as the umbrella to try and make a cohesive lobby in City Hall."
John Morris, president of the Pine Avenue Merchants Assn., said he welcomes NOPA as an ally in the ongoing battle to attract more shoppers downtown. "I think it's great," he said. "We're not an elitist group. I think their idea is cute and if it means improving retail, I'm 100% behind them."
'I Am NOPA'
NOPA organizers--who claim they have heard from businesses ranging from Italian restaurants to clothing boutiques to graphic design studios--say they aren't sure how they'll proceed.
Although dues will not be charged, Supreme Ruler George Metivier said, the group will probably raise funds by selling window stickers saying "I Am NOPA." He said the group hopes to use some of the money to publish a NOPA newsletter. Other projects under consideration include a NOPA block party, NOPA T-shirts, NOPA baseball caps, NOPA balloons and NOPA street rallies.
"We think it would be good not to get too serious," said Metivier, the owner of a photography studio on Cedar Avenue. Nonetheless, he said, "Pine Avenue and Long Beach shouldn't be synonymous. The whole area should grow together."