It's been a difficult year for many downtown Bakersfield businesses, including some that are outside the traditional boundaries of the downtown business district.
But after months of lockdowns, closures, mask requirements, mixed messages from government, and adaptation to new and extreme circumstances, the Downtown Business Association and its member businesses appear ready to "reunite" in 2021.
"Last year, we were getting ready to kick off our governing board for the Block-to-Block program, and it was going to start in April of 2020," Melanie Farmer, president and CEO of the DBA and the Downtown Bakersfield Development Corporation, said at a news conference held Wednesday morning outside the Fox Theater.
Then everything began to change that spring.
"So I'm happy to announce," Farmer said, "that everybody has come back and they're ready to get started. They're reuniting right now and having great conversations."
Indeed, DBA members began their meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday inside the Fox — and the meeting was still going as Farmer spoke with news reporters outside at 10:30 a.m.
Members of news organizations were not permitted to cover the meeting itself.
According to Farmer, the governing board for the Block-to-Block program has been established, and she listed the names of 25 businesspeople who are on the board.
"Reuniting" the organization's Block Captains was also a priority for the DBA. Block captains are in charge of one square block, sometimes two, Farmer said. They attend the meetings and report back to the business owners or managers on their block who often are unable to attend the meetings.
Block-to-Block began three years ago, Farmer said.
"Before the pandemic happened, we were turning the corner, and doing amazing work in the downtown area," she said. "So we're ready to reunite and get started."
Farmer introduced Jordan Barker, with ADR Services, a private cleaning service the city contracted with to remove human waste and sanitize sidewalks in front of storefronts, alleys, in parks, parking lots, and open spaces in downtown Bakersfield and Old Town Kern.
"We have just over 3,900 different reports that we have responded to, cleaning up downtown for feces and urine and making sure everything stays decontaminated and clean for business owners and residents in those areas," he said.
But their area of service is expanding.
A new pilot program has the crews moving west to Oak Street, between Truxtun Avenue and 24th Street, northward on Chester Avenue to 34th Street, and parts of Union Avenue and expanded areas in Old Town Kern.
"This includes several parks, churches, businesses," Barker said. And hours of service will also be expanding.
"If you have any areas of concern, with feces, urine, smells, stains, anything like that at your business, or home, residence, alley ways, any of those areas, give us a call at 319-0000."
Farmer said these meetings will continue once a month for block captains.
"We will be reporting to the community on which direction we are going," she said, "to make our downtown amazing."
The DBA currently has 75 active block captains, but with 300 square blocks to cover, they could certainly use more.
Anyone seeking more information can reach Farmer at the DBA at firstname.lastname@example.org or 325-5892.