LEIMERT PARK : Merchants Group Plotting New Goals

After months of reorganizing, the Leimert Park Merchants Assn. elected new officers last week as part of an effort to stengthen a group that many business owners say has not operated cohesively in recent years.

Jimmy Dodson, owner of Banjo's Deli, was elected association president; Lorenzo Thomas, owner of Modern Concepts bath fixtures, was elected first vice president, and Kongo Square Gallery co-owner Jackie Ryan was elected second vice president.

Association members say they will try to involve as many merchants as possible in the group to better promote the village and raise a collective voice with politicians planning the area's future.

"We want to try and create a stronger business community," said Dodson, who has worked with other merchants since October to draft new association bylaws. "We want to try to make each business prosper a little more. We haven't done a sufficient job capitalizing on what's down here, what we have to offer."

Dodson and others said that the merchants association has operated on an ad-hoc basis for too long, holding meetings sporadically and not setting goals to improve the village.

The old association was composed largely of artists and gallery owners--who put Degnan Boulevard on the city's cultural map--and other merchants felt excluded, Dodson said.

Ryan, the only new officer to serve in the old association, said she hopes that will change.

"This association is for everyone, whatever their business," she said. "Our objective is to stay alive as an area, and have a voice."

The association, which now includes 27 of the area's roughly 80 merchants, will be recruiting members until May 31.

In the meantime, it is planning strategies to beautify Leimert Park and bring more attention to the area through advertising and special events.

Dodson said the association is working to bring the Cameroon World Cup soccer team, and the the Cameroonian delegation, to Leimert Park for an African-themed event next month.

Thomas said special events, better organization and aggressive promotion by merchants will increase business from residents of nearby Baldwin Hills, Windsor Hills and View Park.

"We have an image problem that we want to correct," he said. "We want world-class events here. People don't realize the vitality we've had here since the riots. We need to make that known."

Richard Fulton, owner of Fifth Street Dick's jazz coffeehouse, is one merchant who says he will probably not join.

"What they're doing is fine, but I really think the arts places should have a separate group," he said. "Their agendas, their concerns are a little different."

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