Midtown Business Improvement District Executive Director Monorom Neth stands in front of his favorite mural along Anahiem Street in Cambodia Town, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. The colorful mural by Rick Vilchis represents the diversity and heart of the Midtown community, Neth said. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Long Beach’s Midtown Business Improvement District has supported Anaheim Street’s eclectic mix of businesses—various markets, popular restaurants, jewelry stores and more—for the last four years. But that support came to an end this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The BID, which spans Anaheim Street from Raymond to Alamitos avenues, normally has a contract with the city and is funded by property owners, who agree to have their buildings assessed by the county to determine how much they pay annually. Each year the organization would receive about $160,000, the organization’s executive director Monorom Neth said.

But that funding depends on a majority of Midtown property owners signing that they agree to pay. Neth said he initially hesitated to ask folks for money during the worst of the pandemic, and later struggled to get sufficient support. So he ultimately missed the deadline.

The BID’s closure was just another blow to many businesses in the area that were already hurting.

“The [organization’s] presence has been a great asset to me and my businesses,” Adam Van, owner of Monorom Cambodian and Udom Khmer restaurants, said. “It’s a big loss.”

Van, whose family immigrated to Long Beach as refugees in the 1980s, said he was fortunate to come out of the shutdowns with both restaurants intact. He and his wife had only opened Udom a couple months before the onset of the pandemic after about a year of renovations.

Other than takeout, there was no respite for most restaurants along the corridor, Van said, noting that Anaheim is not safe for the parklets that popped up in other areas due to the amount and speed of traffic.

Van said that Neth—who has no ties to Van’s restaurant, despite sharing a name—has been an important support for the Midtown business community. Since the BID began its services at the beginning of 2017, the organization’s main focus has been safety and cleanliness, including security patrols five days a week, street cleanups, power washing sidewalks and addressing homelessness.

After a night of rioting in Long Beach last year in response to the murder of George Floyd, Neth organized a cleanup of smashed windows in the area and helped businesses that were looted, including a jewelry store and a supply store.

Like other business associations in the city, Midtown received some funding through the CARES Act for fiscal year 2021. But since it was unable to renew its contract with the city, the organization will not receive funds through the American Rescue Plan Act.

With its contract not renewed and no incoming revenue, the Midtown BID stopped providing services in May when funds ran out, Neth said, adding that he still communicates with the business owners and assists when possible.

“I still do what I can to keep the place safe, clean and beautiful,” Neth said.

Arteaga’s Market Manager Mayra Arteaga said she has seen a noticeable change in the cleanliness of the neighborhood.

“You can tell the difference—there’s trash, the sidewalks are really dirty,” she said, and Neth “used to drive around and help with the homeless.”

Idalia Marquez, who has been a cook at Arteaga’s Market for 20 years, watches customer David Galan, 74, walk out of the Mexican restaurant that is tucked away in the back of a mini-market in Midtown, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Arteaga’s Market has been located in the same storefront at 1436 E. Anaheim St. since 1984, more than two decades before the neighborhood was officially designated Cambodia Town. The area did not receive its designation until 2007 despite being home to the largest Cambodian population outside the country itself since the mid-1970s.

Arteaga and her parents, who still own the business but leave its operation to their daughter, were in a unique situation throughout the pandemic: they own the building in which the restaurant is located. While landlords and tenants navigated the struggle of rent and mortgage obligations amid the pandemic, the Arteagas only had to worry about themselves—which saved their business.

“We’re surviving only because we own the building,” Arteaga said. “If we had a lease like these other businesses do, we would have been gone.”

Despite the hardships they were facing, the Arteagas signed the BID assessment renewal petition. Arteaga said she sees the value in the services offered by Neth and the BID and would like for them to continue.

The BID’s value didn’t just come in the form of security and cleanup services. It also helped the market’s bottom line, Arteaga said. Federal and state grants helped the business during the pandemic, and Arteaga said she only knew about that money because Neth kept businesses well-informed.

But even Neth’s best efforts could not save every business.

When it was operating, the business district had about 160 members, Neth said, but there were some casualties throughout the pandemic. About eight businesses were forced to shutter since the emergence of COVID-19, according to Neth, including Legend Seafood Restaurant.

As the economy continues to recover, though, Neth said he is optimistic that he will garner enough support from property owners to allow the organization to restart its work in 2022. He is only a few signatures short of the target number, he said.

Van, meanwhile, is also hopeful.

“They are instrumental, they’re always present,” Van said. “They’re so helpful, I’m extremely disappointed. I would love to have them back.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.