Businesses near SoFi Stadium await economic boom
By Ray Richardson
INGLEWOOD — Derrick Brown has operated his Bourbon Street Fish restaurant on the corner of Prairie Avenue and Kelso Street for 20 years. Though COVID-19 cost him 60% of his revenue in 2020, he’s willing to put in a few more years to serve his popular seafood dishes.
Brown’s restaurant is across the street from the Forum and SoFi Stadium parking lots. He’s right in the middle of a projected economic explosion.
“I’m looking to be here when it happens,” Brown said.
Brown’s hang-in-there attitude reflects the sentiments of businesses near Inglewood’s celebrated sports and entertainment venues, as well as city officials and the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers. The COVID-19 health crisis has been devastating to the local economy and has kept fans out of the Forum and SoFi for practically all of 2020.
Yet, there is optimism that the pain and sacrifices will be worth it someday for local business owners like Brown, the Rams, Chargers and the city of Inglewood.
“For anyone that has a business in our city, when the economy returns, this will be the tip of the sphere,” Inglewood Mayor James Butts said. “Those businesses near the Forum and SoFi are in the middle of a gold mine. It’s been tough on all of us, but we’ve laid the foundation for the future.”
The Rams and Chargers played the entire 2020 NFL regular season with no fans in SoFi or the adjacent Hollywood Park. The sports-entertainment spectacle is waiting to deliver the economic impact that Butts, city officials and the NFL have envisioned for Inglewood. Butts said construction remains at “full speed” for the various projects and venues planned for Hollywood Park.
Even when construction is completed, there is no timetable for a change or modification for California’s stay-at-home orders. SoFi and Hollywood Park will continue to be only drive-by moments for a frustrated public.
“We’ve been trying to do a lot of virtual experiences for our fans,” said Jerrett Burke, the Rams’ director of client services. “You have to adapt. We’re also in the community to stay connected and help local businesses as much as we can.”
Despite no fans being allowed to attend Rams and Chargers games, both teams were able to compensate for losses in ticket sales, merchandising and concessions with their TV revenue. All 32 NFL teams, most of them playing without fans the entire season, earned approximately $250 million each from the league’s lucrative media contract with broadcast partners.
NFL stadiums were eerily silent in 2020, but the league made sure games were played to salvage TV revenue. And the league is moving forward with plans for Super Bowl LVI, which is scheduled to be played at SoFi on Feb. 6, 2022.
The NFL is already reaching out to the Los Angeles area to create awareness for the league’s Super Bowl Business Connect Program, an initiative designed to create opportunities for local minority and women-owned businesses before and during Super Bowl Week next year. Businesses can apply at this website: LASEC.net/businessconnect. Application deadline is Feb. 1.
Karolyn Plummer, who owns Sweet Red Peach Custom Cake and Pastries in Inglewood, might have already established a relationship with the NFL. Plummer’s bakery shop is in the Hollypark Plaza Mall, near the corner of Prairie and Hardy Street. Her shop is across the street from the west entrance to SoFi.
Rams players and coaches and construction workers heard about her bakery items, most likely the peach cobbler, and have made regular visits.
“We’re part of the Rams’ certified business program, and that helps to have that kind of connection,” said Plummer, who has been at her current location for nine years. “When COVID hit, we weren’t sure how things would turn out for us. We’ve been blessed that the community has continued to support us. We’re not going anywhere.”
Plummer’s bakery is among the Black-owned businesses Butts is proud to see on the threshold of a special opportunity. Whenever the coronavirus slows down or becomes manageable enough to allow reopenings, Black-owned businesses are expected to thrive if they can stay afloat long enough during the health crisis.
“Our Black businesses need foot traffic and vehicle traffic,” Butts said. “That’s what’s in store in that area when things get better.”
There are businesses near Hollywood Park that have not survived, or at least shut down during the coronavirus to save money or comply with the state’s stay-at-home guidelines. Nail shops in the Hollypark Plaza have remained closed since the pandemic surge, as well as the LifeTime Fitness on Century Boulevard near the Hollywood Park Casino.
The message from Butts and local business owners is to “stick it out” as best you can.
“I know I’m not leaving,” said Russell McBride, owner of Byte-Me Wireless, a cell phone repair outlet and variety shop in Hollypark Plaza. “We’re just breaking even right now, but you can tell it’s gonna change around here.”
A change a lot of people in Inglewood are anxiously awaiting.