Alhambra was awarded "Most Business-Friendly City" in Los Angeles just last week, but the city already has plans to use the recognition to expand development. Meanwhile, as news of the honor spread down Valley Boulevard and Main Street, various business owners said it was well deserved, though some proprietors of small independently-owned companies said they could use more help.
“It’s a tremendous honor. And I know it’s an honor that a lot of cities would be proud to have,” said City Manager Julio Fuentes. “We’re going to market it to the tilt.”
The Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation presented Alhambra with the award, for its “favorable combination of housing, business, employment and recreational opportunities.” Carry Rodgers, vice president of the organization, would not reveal how many cities entered the contest this year, only that it was more than ever before. Judges, who came from throughout the state, reviewed the proposal and an independent index that measures the cost of doing business, but did not actually visit the nominated cities.
The reasons Alhambra was chosen, according to the award statement, include “the help and wealth of information found on the city’s website,” “timely customer service and modest and reasonable rates charged for business license and utility user tax and fees.” In addition it notes the partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Association that has made possible the “Summer Jubilee,” as well as the “downtown make-over project included cityscape beautifying and free façade painting to businesses and restaurants in the area.”
Businesses owners in Alhambra gave their own reasons. Several said that the location of the city and ethnic diversity has helped them flourish. “Everything in Alhambra is almost ideal,” said Khru J.N. Thai, owner of Vo Sci Academy, a martial arts gym located on Garfield Avenue and Main Street. Two years ago he moved his gym from Monterey Park to Alhambra. “You have the mixture of different cultures.”
Dr. Nora K.W. Tee, who owns a medical office on Valley Boulevard, said that the businesses and transportation are a draw for her customers. “My older patients want to move to Alhambra because the transportation is so convenient,” said Tee, who has been in business for 16 years. “They say they can go to the market, go eat, and then come to see me.”
Further down Valley Boulevard at Pepe’s Mexican Food there is a steady stream of customers consuming cheese fries. The store’s manager, Eloy Palomeque, 32, lives in West Covina but still makes the commute to Alhambra. “There is a branch of Pepe’s in West Covina, but I love this place,” Palomque said. “It has good business and is busy all the time. The drive-thru never stops.”
The active Chamber of Commerce was cited as one reason for the award, though businesses had varied experiences with it. The owner of Wahib’s Middle East Restaurant, Ikbal Wahby, said that it has been very helpful to her restaurant, which has been opened for 30 years. When they needed financial assistance in asking for a payment break to their landlord, the Chamber helped them successfully negotiate. But Thai, of Vo Sci Academy said that though the Chamber has offered him basic business packages he has no need for them since most of Vo Sci Academy’s business comes from word of mouth.
Other newcomers said that they wished the city would provide more assistance to local businesses. “Maybe Alhambra deserves it [the award] because large corporations are receiving better assistance in the city, but from a small businesses perspective, I haven’t seen much help,” said Try Lam, owner of Nostalgic Books and Comics. After nearly a year in business, he officially closed his store on Main Street on November 1st, but is still open for sales while looking for a new space to move a space that offers cheaper rent.
Alhambra City Manager, Julio Fuentes, responded that the city has given discount cards, insurance discounts for services, and painting on Main Street. On Valley, there have been upgrades of sewer lines and median island work. Nonetheless, he said the city is not immune from greater economic woes. “We’re struggling through this very tough economy,” he said, adding, “Alhambra has weathered the storm. It’s coming back. The recovery is happening.”
For Lam, this recovery might not have come soon enough. “I don’t know who to ask for or to work with,” said Lam, of the city. “I think that if they focused on actually going out and asking businesses if they need any financial assistance in loans that would be very appreciated. We are facing financial trouble, especially in these bad economic times.”