Let's Talk About Oakland: Viscera & The Town
by Ari Takata-Vasquez
When I opened Viscera in 2014, our building had been sitting vacant on Broadway for three decades. It’s an amazing location and I fell in love with the high ceiling, so I signed a 5 year lease with the intention of planting deep roots in our neighborhood. I live Downtown, just 4 blocks away, and so I bet on our neighborhood. Keep in mind, I was negotiating and signing the lease for the shop before Uber announced they were moving to Oakland and before the deluge of tech and investment that has followed them. Little did I know, we would have two massive construction projects on our block. In Oakland, it’s only required that landlords, and not tenants, are notified of construction in advance. In 2015, the Latham Square Redesign project began, making our block a construction site for 14 months. We weathered the challenges that construction project brought, and when it was complete we had a new park right across the street! And, as interest in Oakland is increasing the shop started to get traction. With our street in-tact and more people living Downtown, we started to see steady growth at Viscera.
Then, earlier this year construction to build a 33-story on our block at the corner of Broadway and 17th began. Since construction began, our sales have dropped significantly. With this project, we’ve lost another parking lot downtown making driving access more difficult, the bus stop on our block has been relocated, we don’t have a sidewalk (it’s now k-rail in the street) which makes pedestrian access challenging, on some weekends no street access, and biking is precarious. If you’ve ever lived or worked near a construction site, you know it isn’t fun.These are all things that on their own might not seem impactful, but collectively, it makes it difficult for a retail business to survive. A boutique isn’t something you need to visit regularly like a pharmacy or grocery store. When you come to Viscera it’s because you decide to take a walk on your lunch break or because you notice something cute in the window on your walk by home. So a reduction in our foot traffic is a problem for keeping the business running. However, these are temporary setbacks. We have another 2.5 years on our lease with another 6 years in options, and once the project is complete it’ll be beneficial for the shop. We’ll have hundreds of more people living just a couple of doors down from Viscera and ground floor retail (hopefully local/indie businesses but that has yet to be seen). When our block isn’t under construction we’re doing just fine.
I picked this location because it’s one of the most transit rich locations in the whole of the Bay Area. It’s within 2 blocks of the only two BART stations that have all lines running through them, over 20 bus lines, it’s extremely bike-able, and it’s where two main arterials, Telegraph and Broadway connect. I don’t often talk about this since it’s not usually as pertinent in our blog posts but I did my Masters in City Planning and specifically studied Downtown Oakland. I’ve researched this neighborhood extensively. In a strange way, planning school was what made me want to start a shop in Downtown Oakland. While I was working on a project examining the effects the Affordable Care Act would have on Oakland’s economy, one thing that jumped out at me was our lack of retail. It was something I knew intuitively, having lived downtown but to learn that we have the biggest retail leakage (which means dollars spent on retail from one city being spent in other cities, i.e. Oakland residents spending their retail dollars in San Francisco) in the country was a clear opportunity to take action. There are a million things like this I could go on and on about but in short, Downtown Oakland can and should have retail.
Retail functions as a pseudo-public space. Think about times when you’ve traveled to a new city, when you want to explore you probably walk around from shop to shop, you ask the sales people ‘where should I get lunch?’, you get a sense for the city from the products that are carried. Retail is your entree to our city. And so, I want to ask that you help keep Viscera as a part of retail in Downtown Oakland. Since we’ve opened, we’ve hosted more than a dozen emerging companies through via pop-ups, featured various artists, sourced from more than 100 independent American-made brands, hosted numerous pit bull adoption events, donated over $1500 to our neighboring non-profits, and sold over 4,000 items that are now a part of your daily lives. We plan on being a part of Downtown for a long time to come. We just need a little help during this rough patch of construction. Our Indiegogo campaign ends 7/28, so please help keep Viscera in Oakland.