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Downtown Pomona Public Square resurges lively art scene

Small businesses in Pomona are expanding its operations to outdoors, reawakening the city’s lively art scene. This follows a September street closure along Second Street, set to remain in place until the end of the year, to establish the Downtown Pomona Public Square.

The business expansions came after the authorization of the Activate Pomona permit, passed on June 15, that allowed businesses to expand into streets, sidewalks and parking lots for a COVID-19 friendly experience.

One of the businesses using the opportunity to showcase artwork is The Alley Gallery, a gallery that highlights local artists, hosts public events and organizes painting classes. Though the gallery was unable to host its monthly Saturday Artwalk, it is bringing the art scene back into the streets through its most recent exhibitions, “31 Flavors” and “Through Her Eyes.”

The Alley Gallery features local artists for its “31 Flavors” exhibit in downtown Pomona. (Kristy Ramirez | The Poly Post)

Owner and curator of The Alley Gallery, Geo Esparza, aims to reignite the art scene in Pomona by inviting local artists to showcase their art around downtown.

“Pomona was the place to be at back in the day,” Esparza said. “At the end of the day, that’s my goal. It’s to make Pomona the place to be.”

Many locals — including Cal Poly Pomona students — are showing their support by strolling through Second Street to browse through the shops.

Fifth-year gender ethnic and multicultural studies student Sandra Martinez-Chavez visited downtown Pomona with her friends after hearing about the “31 Flavors” art walk along Second Street.

“It’s transformed a lot from what it was before, and it’s now more community-based in downtown. And I like that,” Martinez-Chavez said.

Given the county order limiting indoor businesses, Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval worked with the city council to create a safe outdoor space to help businesses bring in more revenue.

Sandoval trusts the public to follow COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, bearing in mind that there is no designated person to enforce those restrictions.

“It’s about people doing the right thing and taking responsibility and wearing their masks and being socially distanced,” Sandoval said. “That’s why we try to be very limited with the types of activities and events that happen in downtown.”

Though the expansions opened up more outdoor opportunities, Vital Pomona co-owner William Bissic hopes to return to indoor operations for artists to “show and share their creations.”

Vital Pomona is a gift store and community space located in Downtown Pomona Arts Colony. “I feel more in control inside our space,” Bissic said. “There are a lot more regulations as we go outdoors. That doesn’t negate the fact that there is opportunity to grow, but I think that growth will come with understanding with what we can do.”

Nonetheless, the growing support for small businesses during the pandemic inspired places like The Alley Gallery and Vital Pomona to move their shops online to survive.

The community-based businesses invite the public to show support by “shopping small.”

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