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Sand, surfing and Santa Claus? Long Beach initiatives aim to lure shoppers

Project 11561, a grassroots group in Long Beach,

Project 11561, a grassroots group in Long Beach, is holding "cash mobs" at local businesses this holiday season beginning Saturday at Long Beach's four surf shops. (Nov. 26, 2013) Credit: Tara Conry

This holiday season, Long Beach residents and business owners are planning an array of events -- from cash mobs to a scavenger hunt and the city’s first New Year’s Eve ball drop -- to help drive holiday shoppers to their beach town.

“All the businesses down here are really struggling right now,” said Kelly Sullivan, a member of the Historic West End Business Owners Association, adding that the city is still struggling to recover from superstorm Sandy. “Right after summertime, people stop coming to Long Beach and residents are not back in their homes.”

Sullivan, a Long Beach resident whose husband co-owns SwingBellys BBQ, has been working with other merchants and Project 11561, a group created in the wake of Sandy by four Long Beach moms, on a number of initiatives meant to lure shoppers.

Among the efforts is a series of weekend cash mob events hosted by Project 11561 leading up to Christmas, said Jesse Farrell, one of the group’s founders. Each cash mob event will focus on a particular kind of business attached to a theme. For example, if the theme is surfing, participants will shop at any of the city’s surf shops. The theme will be announced on the Project 11561 Facebook page during the week prior to the event.

Earlier this month, Project 11561 also launched an online fundraising campaign to help replace West End holiday decorations that were destroyed during Sandy. The plan is to transform the downtown area into a winter wonderland.

The Indiegogo.com campaign has brought in $11,000, including a $5,000 matching donation from the City of Long Beach.

“As we continue to recover from Sandy, providing support to our local businesses this holiday season is vital,” Long Beach City Council President Scott Mandel said in a statement. “These lights will go a long way in assisting our businesses, bringing back holiday cheer for residents and letting everyone know Long Beach is back and better than we were before."

Additionally, the city will be decorating its new boardwalk in holiday lights and running trolley cars to and from the West End, where families can take photos with a surfing Santa Claus on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. West End restaurants will also host “pop-up shops” featuring vendors from Arts in the Plaza.

“Everything you do at the mall you can do here and support local businesses,” said Sullivan, who is also organizing a scavenger hunt for kids on Dec. 14, followed by an “Electric Light Parade” down Beech Street. She is also planning Long Beach’s first New Year’s Eve celebration, complete with ball drop.

“It’s so dark and dreary right now, because so many people aren’t home and some businesses are still closed,” Sullivan said of the West End. “We really wanted to lighten it up … and rebrand Long Beach. It’s not just a summertime place.”

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