Let's Talk About Oakland: Downtown & Local Businesses
by Ari Takata-Vasquez
Go home, you're drunk 2016.
2016 has felt like the worst year ever. I think most people can agree with that sentiment. At the shop we've had a rough year. We started the year with a leaky roof that damaged our 3D printer, dealt with a shattered window, removed graffiti, and most recently watched our neighborhood get ravaged post-election. 2016, you stink.
Downtown is burning.
Downtown Oakland has been getting a lot of negative press around the protests, with local news channels pushing misleading headlines like "protests hurt small businesses". I'd like to clarify some of this: firstly, the election season has been hurting retailers across the country, large and small. Secondly, the protesters are not the same people hurting/damaging small businesses.
On Wednesday, as I stood outside of the shop, standing guard to make sure my windows wouldn't get broken, I helplessly watched Anarchist groups shatter the Cathedral building's windows across the street. I watched them start fires in the middle of the street on 17th street and Broadway. It was difficult to watch our beautiful neighborhood being torched and smashed.
I marched with the protest earlier in the evening where emotions of anger, grief, fear, and disbelief were high, however, the group was not violent. It wasn't until about 9:30pm when we saw new groups arriving Downtown, many with liquor in hand. These were the anarchists. They arrived with their faces covered by bandanas, looking to wreck havoc. These were the people we watched break off a tree branch just to throw it through a window. Let me repeat, these were NOT the protesters. The local NBC news came into the shop to interview me, asking very leading questions like "How have the protesters hurt your small business?" to which I clarified that they protesters did not, the anarchists did. Conveniently, that part of the conversation didn't air.
We're still here.
The day after, we saw many storefronts board up their windows for fear of further damage. Unfortunately, this has become the normal response in Downtown Oakland, however, I think it may be one that's flawed. As we turn our backs to the neighborhood, we begin to insulate ourselves from the real fear and anxiety that's happening in our neighborhood. I've had my window broken, I've had my shop graffitied, but if I decided to board up my windows after that, I'd miss the opportunity to dialog with people in my community. I'd miss the opportunity to talk to people who see the damage and ask "what happened?" rather than just taking the local news at face value. I, like most business owners in Downtown, didn't open in Oakland because we thought it would be easy, but we knew we wanted to be part of the community. We're scrappy, stubborn, and despite the damage, we have a hell of a lot of pride for Oakland. We're here for our community, we organize fundraisers, we advocate for neighborhood improvements, we donate to nonprofits.
Shop Local, today.
Now, we need you all to show up for us. As I mentioned earlier, the election season on a whole has been absolutely terrible for retailers. We need you to go out and buy something TODAY. Our survival isn't a given, we need our customers to come out year round to support their local shops. The potential for growth is here in Oakland, we just need to be conscious about where we spend our money. Oakland, losses $1 billion annually to neighboring cities like Emeryville, San Francisco, and Walnut Creek. We need your help to keep that money in our neighborhood to support our local economy.
We need to see you on Plaid Friday and Small Business Saturday. As you make your Holiday shopping list please, shop local first. We need one another. Local businesses not only provide a solid tax base for the general fund, we hire locally (Viscera pays above the living wage), and we are integral members of the community. Big box stores don't love you like we love you (or give you Donut Savant donuts). So get out, walk around your neighborhood, meet your local business owners, engage with them. You'll find that they're thrilled to get to know you.
Until next time,