I have to applaud Oakland’s independent business owners for their creativity in presenting unique products and their practically in meeting traditional needs. Thanks to sophisticated house wares at Someone’s In The Kitchen, decadent antiques from All Things Vintage, and an array of gift certificates for dining, groceries, car service, and salon treatments, my entire Christmas list, including a cache of recyclable lottery tickets, was filled locally. I parked free in Montclair (with validation), Rockridge (BART lot), Dimond (pick your pleasure), and Lakeshore (under 580). I could have drove less if I had planned better, but I still found buying Oakland easier and more enjoyable then a trip to the mall. With more awareness of what Oakland has to offer and some hands-on exploration, your dollars can stay and multiply in your community.
If we are going to shop local then we need to know local. We are not only creatures of habit, we are creatures of convenience, as careful with our time as with our cash. To get consumers to form new habits requires tools to make new behaviors adaptable. As websites like Oakland Unwrapped become more sophisticated, I imagine uploading your shopping list and the all-Oakland search will bounce back the stores that meet your needs. How about within a mile of your location, or on your route to work, or from certified green businesses, isn’t there an app for that?
Currently Oakland has a communication problem, not just among city departments, but also in how residents discover the wonderful neighborhoods, the one-of-a-kind stores, and those trend setting dining experiences you want to be the first to rave about. As the City turns to technology to better integrate resources and cut waste, Oakland businesses are tapping community email lists, social media, and saddling marketing trends like Groupon and Living Social that appeal to cost conscious consumers through one-time, deeply discounted promotions, hoping that the bait will snag a loyal customer.
Enticing customers has increasingly become a community effort. There are more special events across the Town then ever before. Taste This Restaurant, Walk Over Here, Eat Food, Grow Shops, DrinkFest, many are free in order to get the businesses, or the neighborhood, on your radar and give you an experience you will make habitual. The owner of Budweiser is never going to hand you a beer and discuss the brewing process, but the owner of Linden Street Brewery will, and, like many small business owners, is regularly standing behind his product on the streets of Oakland.
Organizations like the Oakland Merchants’ Leadership Forum (OMLF), and the Oakland Business Assistance Center equip merchants with the tools to reach you, to bring the money back from the malls and into Oakland. Neighborhoods are also working to better address the underlying obstacles to commercial viability - crime, litter and blight, antiquated infrastructure, and long lost identity. The trend across the state is the formation of Business Improvement Districts which generate resources from within the neighborhood that stay in the neighborhood and buffer a dependency on dwindling City services. To expand the shopping experience in Oakland the City can offer start-up assistance to actively support BID organization, empowering neighborhoods to manage priorities based on localized needs.
Events stimulate economic activity, celebrate the community and culture of our City, involve artisans and organization that don’t typically have a storefront, and market the retail, dining, and business options in the neighborhood. Unfortunately the events and activities designed to get you excited about keeping local are increasingly strained by an antiquated permitting process and fee schedule. Event producers in Oakland painfully joke about the inconsistency of fees, the run around in tracking down a signature, and the chance a successful event may not return due to the costs of approval, as we saw with the loss of the Cinco De Mayo celebration – The Chinatown New Years Bazaar is this weekend.
Pamela Drake’s article applauds Oakland merchant’s competitive pricing and responsiveness to consumer tastes. Alongside Oakland Grown, a challenge has been made by the Quan administration to put your money where your heart is, with it the promise to lead by example. Our neighborhood businesses are collaborating to create fun, unique shopping experiences. Developing technologies and the organizational support within the City has the shop local vision in focus. Now, can we cooperate to see that our needs are being met, as consumers, as merchants, as property owners, and as city government?