About a year ago, Westwood Village created a Business Improvement District to work to make the area more appealing to both business owners and shoppers.
Since then, the group has worked to clean up the streets of Westwood, string lights in the trees and help alleviate Westwood’s homeless population.
While business owners have been generally supportive of the BID’s efforts, some said they have not seen a noticeable improvement in their finances. Yet, business owners are hopeful that the efforts made this past year are steps in the right direction for attracting customers in the future.
The Business Improvement District is an association of Westwood property and business owners that began a process of self-taxing last year to provide services around the community. Property owners are assessed a tax from the district that is relative to the size of their space.
Currently, the association operates with an annual budget of a little more than $1 million, said Andrew Thomas, the executive director of the BID. This year, they have spent about $200,000 on maintenance and ambassadors.
Since September, when the group acquired its budget, they have hired private companies to power wash the sidewalks, trim the trees, paint over graffiti and collect trash more consistently, Thomas said.
“I think the changes this year have been very obvious,” he said. “One of our goals was to manage trash, and now if you see a piece of trash, it should be minutes or hours old, not days or weeks old.”
Some business owners said there has been a noticeable difference in the cleanliness of the Village.
“I see them pressure wash the sidewalks on a consistent basis throughout Westwood Village,” said Sascha Stamps, manager of Socko’s Subs on Broxton Avenue. “This is something that never used to happen.”
Another large goal of the BID was to decrease the presence of homeless people in the community by trying to transfer them to more permanent housing, Thomas said.
The BID is currently working with the non-profit organization, People Assisting the Homeless, to connect some of the more permanent homeless residents with temporary or permanent housing in the city, he said.
Thomas said that of the 10 or 12 more permanent homeless residents in Westwood, they have so far managed to place two into permanent housing.
“It doesn’t sound like a large number, but (homeless residents) really have to trust you before they are willing to move,” he said.
And some business owners have said that problems they have had with homeless people in the past have decreased over the last year.
“I don’t see them often anymore, and we used to,” said Gilbert Haro, manager of CVS Pharmacy on the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Weyburn Avenue. “We usually didn’t bother them too much, but sometimes they caused problems with our other customers.”
While these improvements have cleaned up the Village, not all businesses have felt these efforts brought in more customers. Stamps said Socko’s sales from last year were similar to sales so far this year.
“Judging from the numbers, I would say business is not necessarily (improving),” Stamps said.
But other owners said they have seen some modest progress that may be related to the BID.
In the past year, Sandbag’s Gourmet Sandwiches has experienced a growth in the number of patrons that come to the store, said owner Eric Cho. In particular, he said the number of students eating at his restaurant has increased.
He said, however, this could be due to promotions and events that the restaurant runs separately from the BID. But Cho said he remains optimistic that business will continue to improve as Westwood becomes cleaner and more shopper-friendly.
“It definitely seems like Westwood is becoming livelier,” he said. “This could be because of the BID or the nice weather, but ever since the inception of the BID, Westwood seems more welcoming to people.”
While business gains may seem modest, Thomas said he thinks improving the quality and cleanliness of Westwood Village will bring in more shoppers and business owners.
“In making an area more beautiful and more attractive, you will increase the foot traffic and thereby the business,” he said.
Business owners said they agree with Thomas, and believe the revitalization of the Village may increase their future revenue.
“Things have been getting better, and I think that if Westwood Village gets a reputation for being a safe, clean, fun environment, then people will start coming in more than in the past couple of years,” Cho said.
In the future, Thomas looks to continue to improve the cleanliness of the area and work on solutions to the lack of parking in Westwood, including standardizing parking lot prices in the Village.