By Andrew Berk
Special to the Review
My wife, Gabriela, and I moved to South Pasadena more than 18 years ago, and like so many others, we were drawn here by the incredible uniqueness and loads of special, magical things this town had to offer.
We are blessed with our exceptional public schools, the incredible and unique fabric of our historic downtown South Pasadena, the loads of beautiful homes with a rich green landscape, close access to the great outdoors, the socio-economic diversity of the community, and the walkability one could find in most of the city. Born and raised in Los Angeles, I recognized that here in South Pasadena, we had found an oasis within the heart of the megalopolis of world-class Los Angeles and all it had to offer.
Earlier this month, I was honored to be elected as the new chairman of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. It is certainly an interesting and challenging time to take the reins of this nonprofit community organization that works tirelessly to support and promote not only our members, but all of the businesses located in our town. The Chamber also manages and promotes large public art, music and food events, including art walks, music festivals and, of course, our award-winning weekly farmers market. We work to engage and promote to both our own residents and to communities throughout SoCal.
When I moved here, there were few events, and there was no Chamber of Commerce. My neighbor, who just moved in with a home-based business, was confused that there was none. Concerned business folks re-started the chamber with a few critical leaders in 2004, filling a crucial business/economic development void within the city. The modest budget of our town made it unreasonable for the city to have its own economic development department as most larger cities do. We had then, as we have now, an engaged and passionate community, and they were able to work hard and put something together to make a difference. More than anything, our community of people makes South Pasadena a great place to live, to raise our children, to run our businesses and pursue our passions. But your help is needed now more than ever.
This pandemic, and all of its implications, has of course brought about a drastic and transformative change in our lives. Our community is blessed with a varied and unique mix of incredible shops (both large and small), restaurants and boutiques that line our streets. However, many, if not most of them, are now struggling to pay their bills and survive. If we do not as a community step up to protect and support this vital piece of our lives and landscape (our shops and businesses), they will be gone. It may be a matter of months. Storefronts and places of business will be vacant, more folks will be out of jobs, and our friends and neighbors will be financially stressed beyond their limits. But we can act. If we all do a little more, alter our shopping habits, we can make a real difference now.
If we all commit to fewer “clicks” to those giant online retailers and focus a bit more on our local “bricks,” we can help to keep our mostly smaller or even larger stores, shops, restaurants and businesses in town alive and thrive. If we can eat, drink and order more local goods and support more of our local merchants and nonprofits, we can minimize the struggles and shuttered businesses and organizations in South Pas. It does not need to be every time, necessarily (but that would be good!). If we all do it just a few more times, not only would our businesses and the physical heart of our town be better suited to survive, our city would receive more of those tax revenues.
Additionally, if we can shop-eat-support locally, and use fewer third-party delivery vendors (Grubhub, Uber Eats, DoorDash, Postmates), our merchants keep more hard-earned dollars. Many folks are unaware that these companies charge the business a substantial percentage of the order as a service charge, leaving less revenue for the owner and their employees. If we, as customers, can pick up our orders ourselves when possible, that makes a significant difference to our beloved restaurants and shops. It would behoove us to educate our millennial, Gen Z and the like to consider this, as studies show that more than 50% of them are active monthly users of these services.
We have a broad and eclectic selection of amazing places in town (southpasadena.net). The chamber and all our local businesses will be working overtime to remind our friends, neighbors, citizens and others to shop-eat-support local. We’ll be implementing a campaign to help remind all of us to do this. We can make a world of difference here.
Andrew Berk is chairman of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.