Merchants on South Beverly Drive have long complained about being overlooked by the city of Beverly Hills and the Chamber of Commerce as they try to attract holiday shoppers. And so it was this year, when South Beverly Drive didn't get any Christmas lights, despite repeated calls to City Hall.

Contrast that lightless stretch to world-famous Rodeo Drive, which just received an $18 million makeover that includes wider streets, rows of palm trees bearing the names of fashion designers and this season, lots of lots of lights, including $50,000 chandeliers on loan.

"It's like we're the wicked stepchild and everything is done north of Wilshire," said Andrew Weiss, owner of Andrew Weiss Gallery. "There should be Christmas decorations and the street should be lit up. Instead, it's dark. People don't even know we exist."

Bobbe Joy of Bobbe Joy Makeup Studio said South Beverly's central location could put it on the map as a bustling local shopping area similar to Hancock Park's Larchmont Boulevard or Brentwood's Montana Avenue if it had a little help from city officials.

"This place is booming with people up and down the street," she said. "But you can see the disparity in the holiday decorations between north and south it's embarrassing."

Historically, Christmas lights have been placed only on Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard. This year, the city added lights to Bedford and Camden drives because local merchants complained. South Beverly, which has holiday banners, might get another shot next year.

"It's not an inconsequential cost," said City Manager Rod Wood, who admits that squabbles between South Beverly Drive and its richer merchants to the north have been going on for years.

This year, for the first time, the Rodeo Drive Committee, a powerful group of local merchants that dominates the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, asked retailers on adjacent streets, including South Beverly, to take part in its "12 Nights Before Christmas" program, when merchants stay open late to attract shoppers.

"There's that bit of outreach," he said.

Michael Robinson, a spokesman for the chamber, acknowledges the schism. He can't miss it: the chamber is located on South Beverly.

"We are sensitive to the fact that there is sentiment along the street that not enough is being done to market them," said Robinson. "It all comes down to money, quite frankly, and as the funds become available, lights will be considered."

While the city pays for the lighting, input from the chamber influences priorities. Several years ago, South Beverly created its own merchants association within the chamber, but members ultimately dropped out because of what they say was the organization's focus on the so-called Golden Triangle bordered by Wilshire Boulevard to the south, Santa Monica Boulevard to the northwest and Canon Drive to the east. It contains seven small commercial streets, with Rodeo as the focal point.

"In almost all city advertising or promotions, the triangle is discussed and almost never is the South Beverly business district discussed," said Mitch J. Dawson, a lawyer who is chairman of the Beverly Hills Planning

Commission. "It takes someone who really wants to dig in their heels and no one has really come forward."

Beverly Drive cuts through the triangle heading south. The area below Wilshire known as South Beverly was developed in the 1930s and still retains some architectural details from the era the Art Deco neon "Edison" sign that fronts 239 S. Beverly and the window facade of 300 S. Beverly, home to the Beverly Hills Bar Association.

Proof that Beverly Hills really does extend south can be found in the bronze Monument to the Stars at the corner of South Beverly Drive and Olympic Boulevard. (The street veers to the east below Olympic; city limits end one block to the south.)

The 1959 statue of a cascading film reel on a tower honors Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Will Rogers, among others, who battled to preserve Beverly Hills' independence in 1923 when it was nearly annexed by Los Angeles.

South Beverly's transformation to a thriving thoroughfare has been gradual. There are a few longtime merchants, including Hansen Cakes and Milart Presciption Pharmacy, whose owner, Arthur Josephs, has been running the pharmacy for 55 years. Over the years, regional chains such as California Pizza Kitchen, Chipotle, Islands and Koo Koo Roo have come to dominate the strip, which is also home to coffeehouses, boutiques and restaurants including Piccolo Paradiso, Hana Grill and Chin Chin.

A few newcomers such as Urth Caffe, an organic coffee and tea shop, and Doggie Styles, a pet boutique, have helped give the retail district more of a hipster glitz.

One aspect the city has been willing to reconsider is parking. Three months ago, the city replaced some parking meters on South Beverly with new pay stations that accept credit cards.

But there were complaints because they do not carry over leftover minutes.

"We're still in the test period so the jury is still out," said Wood. "Everybody likes a freebee from time to time and it appears people want to get 15 minutes off somebody else's meter."

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