Long Beach will begin looking at how it can create a program to support and preserve legacy businesses in the city, which could include providing grants, eviction defense and other services to long-standing businesses. 

The request to develop a legacy business program came from Mayor Rex Richardson and Councilmembers Mary Zendejas and Cindy Allen, whose committees will consider the issue as city officials work to develop a program.

The three asked city management to work with Long Beach Heritage, a local historic preservation group, and city departments to create a registry for legacy businesses, which are businesses that have operated in Long Beach for at least 35 years. 

Businesses could qualify as legacy businesses with less time in the city (25 years) if they contribute to “a sense of history,” have distinctive architecture or landscaping or support the cultural life, diversity or identity, according to the request. 

“They may want to know where hip hop was created at VIP Records, or go to the incredible Joe Jost’s, where they’ve seen a T-shirt somewhere around the world and want to check it out,” Richardson said, referencing two of the city’s iconic businesses, one of which (Jost’s) is currently recognized by Long Beach Heritage as a legacy business. 

Joe Jost’s opened in 1924 and is one of the oldest continually operating bars in the Western United States. The bar has poured countless schooners of beer, which are branded on T-shirts that people snap pictures of themselves wearing in locations across the globe for the bar to post on its walls. 

VIP Records on Pacific Coast Highway, however, has moved multiple times and was engaged in a brief fight with the city and its landlord over who owned its iconic whistler sign before reaching an agreement in 2017. 

Helping legacy businesses with issues with their leases, conflict resolution with their landlords, eviction defense and helping older owners transition to an employee-ownership model instead of selling the business are things the city could look at with the new program. 

While the city does have existing programs to assist businesses with things like facade improvements, permitting and other grant opportunities, it’s unclear how the city will fund a program specifically for legacy businesses. 

The issue is expected to be sent to the City Council’s Arts, Culture and Tourism Committee and its Economic Development and Opportunity Committee before returning to the full council for approval. 

Long Beach Heritage has operated in the city since 1980 and launched its legacy business program in 2022, modeling it after San Francisco’s preservation group that began its registry in 2013 and now has dozens of historic San Francisco restaurants, bars, specialty stores and other destinations mapped out and organized on its site. 

The site features businesses in a daily spotlight that includes a brief history of the location’s importance as well as an address and link to the business’s website. Help with marketing is one of the things that the legacy business program could provide to those that are eligible to join. 

Long Beach Heritage currently features 16 businesses on its legacy business map, including community staples like Santa Fe Importers, Outer Limits Tattoo and Jongewaard’s Bake N’ Broil in Bixby Knolls.

Inclusion on its list comes with branded signage and a wall plaque as well as promotional assistance and help with existing city services for small businesses.

Manuel Valenzuela, acting director of Long Beach Heritage, said the program could be a good economic development tool that’s cost-effective for the city, though he said his group has run into hesitancy from eligible businesses to get enrolled. He’s hoping the city’s support can help overcome that.

Elsa Tung, a land use program manager with Long Beach Forward, told the council that this was a big opportunity to go above and beyond to preserve longstanding businesses in Long Beach. 

Tung pointed to the closures of Cambodia Town staples like KH Market and La Lune in 2021 as things that could be avoided if there were help for businesses to navigate relocation or a way for the city to step in and help with commercial evictions. 

“We can really use this as an opportunity for protection to make sure our small businesses don’t get displaced,” Tung said. 

Long Beach Heritage kicks off new Legacy Business Program with 10 honorees

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.