LONG BEACH - Most days, store manager Norm Halbert takes his lunch breaks behind the counter of the AIDS Assistance Foundation thrift store on Fourth Street's Retro Row.
But the inviting setup of plants and patio furniture in the normally car-filled lot at Fourth and Cherry Avenue on Friday coaxed Halbert out of his storefront and into the makeshift community space.
"It just looks so great from my window watching everyone come over and I thought, 'Gee, you know, I have lunch at the counter seven days a week' and this was neat to see," he said between mouthfuls of salad. "This is great. I don't want to go back to work."
To promote their efforts for a greener neighborhood, the 4th Street Business Association merchants took over parts of Retro Row for Friday's PARK(ing) Day event.
Started in 2005 by San Francisco art and design studio Rebar, PARK(ing) Day encourages communities to turn their metered parking spaces into urban open spaces.
For Long Beach's PARK(ing) Day, merchants decided to take over the parking lot at Fourth and Cherry and put in an organic fruit and vegetable stand, drought-tolerant plants for sale and a bike corral built by Studio One Eleven with reclaimed lumber from the former Acres of Books building.
"The general idea of PARK(ing) Day is to show the community that a parking spot can be used for other purposes, even if it's just for small amount of time," said association president and Portfolio Coffeehouse owner Kerstin Kansteiner. "A little bit of green makes a big difference."
This is Studio One Eleven's third time participating in PARK(ing) Day.
"There's so many studies that say when people have access to nature, even if it's a small area of nature, they're much happier," said Alan Pullman, senior principal for Long Beach architecture and urban design firm.
"And when you live in the city, there's not a lot of access. So every tree and every planted area and every green space makes a difference in people's lives.
The plants sold that day helped with a Fourth Street planting project to replace and replant the areas along the edge of Burbank Elementary School on Fourth Street near Junipero Avenue.
The school's also involved in trying to raise funds for a new facade that will include a meet and greet area lined with benches and Myrtle trees and a mosaic art wall mosaic.
More than 1,000 historic bricks from a reuse project downtown are being sold to help fund the project. (E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.)
Open, a bookstore at 2226 E. 4th Street, turned the parking space in front of the business into a reading room with lamps, benches, music and housing magazines and plant books on display.
"We've had people sitting there, flipping through magazines out there and it's really fun," said bookstore owner Se' Reed.
"It shows what can be possible if you change things around. Just coming out of the street a little bit makes people feel like there's something happening, that there's a community going on. It's neat to see."
The event was also a way to promote future plans for the street. Plans include creating a weekly mini farmer's market, adding bike corrals, extending the sidewalk on the south side of Fourth Street to accommodate outdoor dining, benches and trees and installing bioswales at the street corners similar to those done in the East Village.
"To us, it makes a huge difference because we're such a concrete jungle," she said. "Our sidewalk is not wide enough to accommodate trees.
"Anytime we get the chance to plant anything, whether it's in the tree wells or having a planter out on the sidewalk, it makes a difference."