.Nineteen Business Owners and Experts Discuss How to Sustain a Healthy East Bay Economy for All

It's our annual Local Economy issue!

If there’s one thing you learn from this year’s “Local Economy” issue, it’s this: Screw Amazon. Seriously. How can you read about all these awesome local-business owners and experts, then later pretend that it’s OK to ship that Amazon Prime package to your front door? The women and men we interviewed for this feature aren’t just thinking local: They spend their lives hustling to give the East Bay its inimitable charm.

So, please, buy, think, grow, and live local. Take heed what these professionals have to say. And put your money where their mouths are.

A healing place

Regina Evans

owner, Regina’s Door, a vintage store and sanctuary and healing place for victims of human trafficking (352 17th Street, Oakland; ReginasDoor.com)

Explain how your organization works.

My work is built strongly upon a foundation of love. That is first and foremost. My business is like two trains running: a beautiful vintage store and also a sanctuary healing space.

Originally, my intent was to only hire survivors of sex trafficking through a workforce-development partnership with the anti-trafficking organization Love Never Fails. I quickly learned, or remembered, that the provision of jobs is simply not enough, because the weight of responsibility eventually becomes too heavy for a shattered soul to consistently hold. The being needs to be healed. So, I developed a holistic healing approach, which includes creative healing arts such as painting, dance, sound therapy, yoga, etc.

What made you decide to make your store both a boutique and sanctuary?

When I decided to finally heal from my trauma from being trafficked. … I used my boutique that I owned in Australia as my own personal safe haven. It worked for me and so I thought that I would give it a try for others.

Describe one of the most critical challenges facing the East Bay economy.

Housing is way too expensive. I have so many youth in my community who are either homeless or living very precariously.

How do you anticipate your industry will change in the next decade?

Well, in terms of vintage clothes … it will always be here. How can it not be? I do have a feeling, however, that people will begin to tire of buying vintage online. Vintage is an experience. The stories, the history. All of this is something to be enjoyed up close and personal. Face to face. In a gorgeous boutique!

What are you hopeful for in the retail economy?

I love that the vintage industry possesses the ability to disrupt supply chains. We need to stop buying throw-away clothes that are made in factories [owned by companies] that do not look after the needs of their workers. I think that the vintage industry can help to disrupt this mindset. Buy vintage. Buy quality. Buy beautiful. That’s real talk.

How can we get the next generation to care as much about “local” as they do “digital” or “online”?

Wow. The magic question. I think that we, as elders, need to be up close and personal in the lives of youth. In some ways, the answer is really simple. Two words: be there.

Goodbye, industrialized dinner

Charley Wang

founder, Josephine, an organization that provides cooks with education, tools and support they need to start their own local food business (Josephine.com)

How does your business work?

Through the Josephine platform, cooks can sell food to their friends and neighbors for home pick up. We provide online tools folks need to market, grow, and manage their business, as well as extensive business education and safety training to help them become more accountable cooks and better business people.

Describe one of the most critical challenges facing the East Bay economy and how your organization helps.

The reason we chose to focus on home cooks is because we believe the barriers to entry of our current industrialized-food system are prohibitively high, removing cooking as a basic form of economic empowerment. We believe in providing consumers who are increasingly reliant on industrialized goods with healthy alternatives. This has huge implications for all of us, but especially underserved demographics and communities, who often have a wealth of cooking culture and skills that are underutilized by the community.

The truth is, starting a commercial food business today not only costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also requires a lot of privilege.

What keeps you inspired?

The people. It’s always and forever about the cooks that we serve. As often as possible I try to end hard days at Josephine by going to a meal and sitting down at a kitchen table, surrounded by people who treat each other like family. I’m thrilled to spend every minute at work doing what I do, knowing that we’re creating those small-scale moments of compassion and community.

Screw Amazon!

Hut Landon

former president of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, now bookseller at Mrs Dalloway’s (2904 College Avenue, Berkeley; MrsDalloways.com)

What’s a major challenge for East Bay bookstores?

Commercial rents and minimum-wage hikes are challenges, but the impact of Amazon is perhaps the most critical. As it continues to cut into sales of retailers of all stripes, it sucks money out of the local economy at a staggering rate as it takes sales away from local businesses. Those lost sales mean less revenue reinvested in local economies and, perhaps more importantly, putting local businesses at risk.

What keeps you passionate about your work?

I like fighting the good fight

Describe your organization’s biggest success.

[The San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Alliance] helped influence city policy around minimum wage, ensuring that the wage hikes were done over a number of years rather than all at once. As part of those discussions, we helped convince the city of the importance of a Buy Local campaign, noting that asking small business to support wage hikes without encouraging more local buying was unfeasible and unfair. You can’t ask independent retailers to pay higher minimum wages while city officials and union members shop at Amazon.

What are you hopeful for about the future?

[That people will] decide an Amazon-fueled economy has an adverse impact on their quality of life. Added scrutiny helps folks understand the myriad impact, its stock price plunges, and all is right with the world.

Bringing back historical LGBTQ spaces

Alyah Baker

co-founder, Qulture Collective, a multi-use space and queer-community platform in downtown Oakland (1714 Franklin Street, QultureCollective.com)

What’s the No. 1 obstacle to a thriving local economy?

Gentrification and access to space are two of the most critical challenges facing the East Bay economy. By establishing a queer community space and entrepreneurial hub in downtown Oakland, Qulture Collective is intentionally working to combat the disappearance of historical LGBTQ spaces and neighborhoods as a result of gentrification.

Describe your organization’s biggest success.

Thousands of people have come through the doors of Qulture Collective during our short time in business, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We are receiving local and national recognition for what we’ve created with the Oakland queer community and that feels great!

What is your biggest fear?

The disappearance of the diverse long-term communities and businesses in Oakland to make way for a homogenous new Oakland that lacks soul and purpose.

Sustainable artisans

Monica Reskala

co-owner, Turtle and Hare; a design showroom in Uptown Oakland (100 Grand Avenue, No. 109; TurtleAndHare.net)

How is Turtle and Hare tied to the local economy?

We provide a platform for local makers to sell their products; we use local small businesses to help in the making of our products.

How do you anticipate your industry will change in the next decade?

We are entering a time of more awareness about how to live in a more sustainable way. People will want to have a better understanding and connection with what they consume, with the materials and the makers.

What is your biggest fear?

Oakland becoming like San Francisco, where there is no place for artists, artisans, and small industry; [they were] pushed out due to high living costs. [An East Bay] where there is a place for all of us in a collaborative community.

Think before you click

Rick Karp

president, Cole Hardware, a third-generation locally owned business (various locations, ColeHardware.com)

OK, so why should we shop at your local hardware store?

For many years, Cole Hardware has been at the forefront of educating government organizations, businesses, and consumers about the importance of shopping local. The benefits for our local communities are enormous. … Economically, almost three-quarters of every dollar spent in a locally owned business gets recycled within the community. For chain businesses, only about one-fourth is recycled into the community.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving your organization’s goals?

Amazon is the greatest hindrance to the success of every retailer large and small.

How can we cultivate the next generation to spend their dollars locally?

Education and publicity about the importance of shopping locally. We need to instill a “Think before you click” mentality. When people shop online and at chains they are doing a disservice to their community. Of course people will shop online and at chains. But by shifting their purchasing habits by just 10 percent toward locally owned businesses, there will be an enormous benefit to the local economy.

Sex-work sanctuary

Nenna Joiner

owner, Feelmore Adult Gallery, “a cool-ass space” that educates on sexuality, gender, and racial diversity in sex (1703 Telegraph, Feelmore510.com)

What is an adult gallery?

Feelmore is, among many things, a commerce center for individuals that use sex work, prostitution, or escorting as a source of income to buy their supplies in order to provide a quality of life that the local economy isn’t capable of providing at this time.

That’s an awesome business model.

Luxury in Oakland has always been in “certain” areas. Our goal is to treat everyone with dignity and respect — validated and heard. Besides, people deserve to have their expectations exceeded.

How does your business contribute to Oakland culture in positive ways?

A young woman was walking down the street and was being aggressively followed. She ran into Feelmore because there was nothing else open. I insisted she wait for me to take her home after I closed. An open store makes an impact more than people understand.

If you were mayor of Oakland, what one thing would you do to improve the economy?

You really want me to answer this? Well, I would encourage local government to allow Feelmore to operate a strip club while holding a liquor license, and to stop giving preferential treatment such as “pay-to-play” for new industries. Oakland is the working man’s town. Let us work, all of us!

A social hub for locals

Sal Bednarz

owner, Actual Cafe, a neighborhood restaurant in Oakland (6334 San Pablo Avenue, ActualCafe.com)

Why is your restaurant different?

We pride ourselves on local and responsible sourcing, partnerships with other local businesses, and neighborly values. We’re a social hub for locals; we opened into a neighborhood that was long neglected and filled with vacant storefronts, and which is increasingly vibrant and unique. We’ve helped make our neighborhood more walkable and more lively.

How do you keep workers happy?

Early this year, we kicked off an internal assessment of the feasibility of selling our business to our workers and continuing the restaurant as a worker-owned cooperative. It’s early days, but our crew is engaged, and so am I. We’re working right now on changing our management model to distribute responsibilities across a larger group of people, which allows us to give more opportunities to supervisors and managers with less experience.

Describe how cost-of-living impacts your business.

When I moved to Oakland in 1991, I loved it because it was a place where creative people often put together several hustles to make a living. The people I met then showed me that I could do the same, and this was exciting. This culture is mostly gone here now — the next generation of creative hustlers have left for less-expensive alternatives (Asheville, Nashville, other ‘villes), and the high cost of living here often requires putting financial concerns above others. This is impoverishing us culturally.

San Francisco has become really repugnant to me in these past couple decades. What was once a low-key haven for outsiders and an environment where weirdos thrived alongside its working class has been overtaken by a culture that increasingly only gives a crap about getting rich (or showing off the riches it’s already got). Oakland is on this trajectory, and it’s not clear we can stop the money machine from taking us all the way there. Certainly, we won’t be able to influence our future if we don’t speak up and try.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving your restaurant’s goals?

That the goal post is always shifting. Costs go up more quickly than revenue, and we sometimes can’t afford to take risk — this is dangerous.

Keeping the team stable enough for us to solve problems and do new things has been a really difficult grind for the past couple years.

A different dollar

Chong Kee

founder, Bay Bucks, a community currency for the Bay Area that was started in 2012 (BayBucks.com)

What economic challenge is the most crucial to overcome?

The most critical challenges are often the ones we are not aware of yet. One that I care deeply about is how our economy runs on a debt based currency that allows big Wall Street banks to extract wealth from local communities through charging interests on money they create out of thin air. To build a truly sustainable local economy, we must build it on interest-free local community currency that will never leak out to Wall Street.

Do any other cities do this?

The city of Wörgl in Austria did … in 1932, and within a year had a thriving local economy while the rest of Austria and Europe were still mired in the great depression. I had pitched this idea to various city officials. I hope one day someone will understand how much a city can empower itself by doing this.

Describe your organization’s biggest success.

Many local currency endeavors close down after one or two years due to insufficient planning and forethought. We are in our fourth year of operation now and continue to grow.

How do you anticipate your industry will change in the next decade?

We anticipate as the old economy continues to deteriorate, more will start exploring alternatives, and become more willing to embrace something different.

Explore possibilities

Jenny Kassan

attorney, works with mission-driven organizations, including nonprofits and cooperatives, specializing in helping them structure and raise money so they can stay true to the goals (JennyKassan.com)

Who do you help in the local economy?

High-growth tech businesses get almost all the attention, and most of the support, from local governments and professional investors. The businesses that are the actual backbone of our economy and provide things we need for a healthy, happy life are often left out in the cold with little respect, appreciation, support, or financial resources.

On the other hand, regular folks don’t realize that there are ways to invest local! I help small local enterprises connect with regular folks so that some of the funds tied up in Wall Street investments can be relocalized and create actual community wealth.

If you were mayor, what one thing would you do to improve the local economy?

Create a secondary trading market for investments in local businesses so that community residents could easily invest in the local businesses they love, instead of shipping their investment dollars off to Wall Street.

Describe your organization’s biggest success.

One of my clients, Spotlight: Girls, runs summer camps for girls. It’s a successful business, but the founders want to grow it so it can have a bigger impact. I’ve been working with them to structure their business and raise capital from values-aligned investors and they are making amazing progress bringing on investors on reasonable terms without giving up any control.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving your organization’s goals?

Many mission-driven entrepreneurs, especially women and people of color, do not believe that it is possible for them to raise investment capital, so they don’t even bother to take the time to learn all the ways that it actually is possible. They count themselves out before they even explore the possibilities.

One big kitchen

Sophia Chang

owner, Kitchener Oakland, an incubator commercial kitchen for start-up food businesses in Uptown Oakland, founded in 2012 (372 24th Street, Oakland; KitchenerOakland.com)

So, you’ve got a lot of chefs and cooks in your office.

Kitchener is a 1,500 square foot kitchen with four workstations, ovens, a stovetop, mixers, and walk-in refrigerators, and enough shared equipment to make production efficient for start-up food makers. We work with 25-plus start-up food businesses, and we help them grow through our combination of affordable rates, a strong community emphasis, and programs such as photoshoots, professional copywriting, connections to funding programs, pop-up markets, etc.

How does Kitchener help combat gentrification?

Kitchener is a business that isn’t considered a gentrifier. Rather, we’re in the manufacturing realm of business that hearkens back to the industrial roots of Oakland. Kitchener modernizes the industry of manufacturing so that it fits within these times. The majority of the people who work out of Kitchener are lower-, middle-class tenants (including myself, the owner, who doesn’t own the building but the business) who’re taking the risk with entrepreneurship to make something for themselves and for Oakland.

Describe a time when it was difficult to reach your goal.

There was a time when we wanted to open a second location, but we’ve decided to stick with one and make it better year after year, as commercial kitchens keep springing up all over the Bay Area. Rather than saturate the market, we’ll just improve upon what we already have. We don’t own our building, so there’s fear that it will be sold to a developer at some point, but there’s a chance that we’ll try to buy the building if there’s risk of losing the space. Kitchener is located in the ultra-hot market of the Broadway-Valdez area with 1000-plus apartment units springing up within a one-block radius in the next three years. That leaves potential for increased rents and getting priced out, but we’re doing our best to remain relevant and immerse ourselves more deeply into the fabric of our community.

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur?

Mistakes are OK to make. A large number of them are perfectionists, which can paralyze their progress, since understanding how to start a business while learning their place in the market is a journey that’s very hard to predict and can be nerve-wracking for even the most organized person. I tell start-up food makers to start cheap on operations, spend on branding and product appearances, make mistakes early, learn to follow their intuition, and change courses when the market compels them to.

Room to grow

Shawn Walker-Smith

owner, TART, a small, made-to-order, artisan bakery in Oakland (372 24th Street, TartOakland.com)

What’s a major challenge for the East Bay economy?

Keeping as many dollars as local as possible. Shopping at local small businesses helps to keep more dollars in the East Bay economy than shopping at large chain stores. By having a local business, I can help keep more dollars in our community, by sourcing from and working with other small complimentary businesses.

What is an obstacle to achieving your organization’s goals?

Currently the largest obstacle is finding an affordable space for us to grow into.

How can we cultivate the next generation to keep caring and spending their dollars locally?

By example. I feel it is absolutely key to instill in our youth how important and vital spending locally is. And how in doing so, we as individuals are directly contributing to the health and vitality of our economy.

What other local businesses do you love to support?

Wow. That is a rather long list, LOL. I really love supporting local food folks as much as possible, but if I had to single out a couple of local businesses, it would be Laurel Bookstore (I still love reading actual books and [there’s] a great staff), Regina’s Door (Regina Evans is doing some really important work through her shop), The Town Kitchen (I really love collaborating with them and with what they do), Old Oakland Farmers Market (it’s berry and stone fruit season!), FuseBox (yeah, I admit it, I bleed kimchi).

A center for opportunity

Savlan Hauser

executive director, Jack London Improvement District, a nonprofit business-improvement district funded by special assessment on properties (JackLondonOakland.org

What inspires you about your work?

Cities are opportunity. Instead of seeing vandalism or violence resulting from desperation or fear, I want to see the city filled with people doing what they love and contributing their skills and creativity.

How do you anticipate your industry will change in the next decade?

Cities will become even more compelling in the next ten years. More and more people seek economic opportunity, human interaction, social infrastructure, ability to live close to their work, and collaboration unique to the urban environment. And organizations like ours will continue to play a role in connecting the public and private sector and providing a framework for local leadership.

What is your biggest fear?

I fear that we will not step up to our responsibility to scale our cities enough to accommodate those who want to belong here. Despite exciting development underway, our neighborhood sees displacement and homelessness. Oakland is a center of opportunity — and it’s important to keep it accessible, creative, diverse, and authentic. Organizations like ours can lead the way in growing neighborhoods in an inclusive way and integrating arts and creative uses into the DNA of our local economies.

More equitable food systems

Ben Feldman

director, Food and Farming Programs at Ecology Center, and overseer of three Berkeley farmers markets (Ecologycenter.org, <a href="http://ecologycenter.org/, FarmersMarketCoalition.org)

Explain what you do and how long you’ve been doing it.

I serve as the Director of Food and Farming Programs here at the Ecology Center, where I have worked for ten years. I oversee our three weekly Farmers’ Markets (in Downtown, North and South Berkeley), and our Farm Fresh Choice produce stands. I also lead a statewide food access and equity program, Market Match, and chair the California Alliance of Farmers’ Markets. My role includes working with national leaders to build an alternative food system and develop improved food and farming policy.

How does your organization help overcome some of the East Bay’s economic challenges?

Huge economic disparity exists here in the East Bay. The gap between the haves and have-nots continues to grow in line with a long history of systemic racism and poverty. We see this reflected in wage gaps and low-income families being priced out of the area. According to the City of Berkeley’s 2013 Health Status Report, one of every three African-Americans and one of every five Latino children lives in poverty. And, for every dollar earned by white residents, African-Americans and Latinos earn 40 cents. This gap in income and wealth translates to alarming health inequity.

In Berkeley, the residents demonstrating the poorest health are concentrated in south and west Berkeley, where the majority of families are considered low-income by both Bay Area and federal standards. The Ecology Center focuses on reducing these inequities through a combination of hiring from the community, offering free educational workshops and programming, and increasing access to healthy food through “at-cost” produce stands in low income neighborhoods and programs that double the value of “food stamps” and WIC vouchers at farmers’ markets.

Imagine that you were in charge of the city. What is your priority?

I would increase support for youth employment programs like YouthWorks. The Ecology Center’s partnership with YouthWorks has allowed us to train hundreds of teens in job preparedness and environmental advocacy through our Youth Environmental Academy. It’s a great program to expand because Berkeley’s teens really need more opportunities to get engaged in their communities. Six of our current staff came to us through YouthWorks. I would also continue to support the development of a local food economy by protecting zoning for community gardens and farmers’ markets.

Describe your organization’s biggest success.

We have had a number of big successes in our forty-year history. One of our most recent successes was the passage of the nation’s first tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

How do you anticipate your industry will change in the next decade?

I think that farmers’ markets will continue to spread, grow, and innovate. More markets will become year-round and add additional days of the week, become housed in permanent structures, and continue to lead the charge towards greater access and a more equitable food system.

Listen to those who’ve been here

Sean Daniel Murphy

chief executive officer, ICA Fund Good Jobs, which provides education and investment to small businesses (ICAFundGoodJobs.org)

If you were mayor, what one thing would you do to improve the local economy?

The first thing I’d do is listen to the families that have been here, the businesses that have been creating jobs here, the artists driving culture here, and the educators and non-for-profit leaders fiercely committed to serving our community day in and day out. I’d seek out the underrepresented voices, and seek advice from a broad set of stakeholders to launch a “good jobs coalition.” I believe it’s critical to bridge gaps across sectors and the spark of what it means to have a good job in our local economy is something we can all rally around. We must convene unified action between business owners, developers, workforce and youth development, housing, education, public policy and all leaders under a common goal.

What keeps you passionate about your work?

I believe that we need to bet on people who build people. When we bet on entrepreneurs, we help them bet on others in our community who have lacked access to opportunity.

How many jobs do you think you’ve sparked over the years?

Over the past 20 years, we’ve served five-hundred-plus entrepreneurs, seen the impact of 5,000-plus jobs created and over $65 million in wealth created as a result.

What should we be doing in the future?

I believe the most exciting possibilities to come in our industry will come from those who are fiercely committed to positively disrupting the status quo. As a local economy we need to increase diversity in leadership and particularly invest in underrepresented leadership to ensure diversity in perspectives are at the core of driving value. Ultimately, I believe this will not only provide more innovative solutions. It will also support our need to change the way we embrace traditional notions of risk and reward, which is the greatest barrier to capital flowing more equitably in our local economies across the country.

Art local

Robert Abrams

owner, Abrams Claghorn Gallery, an art gallery with monthly themed exhibits, plus solo and group shows (1251 Solano Avenue, Albany; AbramsClaghorn.com)

What’s the biggest challenge about running an art business?

With the world at everyone’s fingertips, our challenge is to keep our community focused on their artist and small business neighbors. I think the East Bay has always been home to one of the country’s heaviest concentrations of artisans/makers/artists. The challenge is for them to get their products noticed, and for the consumer to understand the value of their work.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving your organization’s goals?

Artists spend a long time on their work. Sometimes years! From concept to fabrication to show — we have to communicate to the customers the difference between hand-made and factory made, and why the price ranges are so different.

Describe your organization’s biggest success.

Over the last year and a half, we hosted fourteen great art shows (yes, that’s once a month or more!), with very well attended receptions, and we have sold a lot of art. We are accomplishing our goals as a gallery and are already planning well into 2017.

How do you anticipate your industry will change in the next decade?

It will be more difficult to survive on art sales alone. We may have to find ways to curate shows online that still convey the message as well as what we can do in person. The online community is strong, and it is an effective channel to get people to come to us in person. People crave interpersonal connection and I hope that the next decade will give us both the technology to keep our name in-front of new eyes and a dedicated group of people who want to participate in artist talks, workshops, and events. We’re banking on the human connection along with the power of promotion.

Support tech equity

Susan Mernit

CEO and co-founder, Hack the Hood, an award-winning nonprofit that introduces low-income youth of color to careers in tech (HackTheHood.org)

Who does your business help?

Schools are not helping low-income and young people of color learn the skills that will enable them to connect their strengths to the tech ecosystem and work place, and learn 21st century skills that empower them to participate in the tech economy.

If you were mayor, what one thing would you do to improve the local economy?

Support the emerging Tech Equity project that will ask local tech companies to be good corporate citizens of Oakland and work to hire local residents. Also, put more effort in supporting developers to build 100 percent more affordable housing than we have planned.

Tell us about a major accomplishment.

We have helped many young people get on a path to education, higher wages, entrepreneurship and confidence that is life changing for them. In 2016, we will serve more than two-hundred youth. In 2013, we served eighteen.

How do you anticipate your industry will change in the next decade?

Tech runs through everything as an enabling layer, but we don’t know how automation will change development needs and business models. We also don’t know if a tech bubble bursting will affect all companies, or just start-ups.

Socially responsible design

Hiroko Kurihara

owner, Hiroko Kurihara Designs and 25th Street Collective, a socially responsible textiles company, and a sustainable and artisan goods incubator (HirokoKurihara.com)

Describe one of the most critical challenges facing the East Bay economy.

The ever increasing cost of real estate in the midst of no protection policies by the City of Oakland. No inclusionary zoning for affordable housing, no rent control measures for commercial properties. I started the 25th Street Collective to help share the costs of rent and share resources, equipment, marketing, events, and know-how. And to build community.

If you were mayor, what one thing would you do to improve the local economy?

I would ensure that our city administrators and leaders placed the people of Oakland first in the effort to retain our unique culture and diversity (the key ingredients to the “Secret Sauce”) that makes Oakland Oakland. I would designate (practically the entire city) many areas throughout the districts of Oakland as Cultural Arts Districts, with built in protections and requirements to allocate affordable space to cultural arts and arts enterprises.

How do you anticipate your industry will change in the next decade?

I’m not sure, except to say that when there is a will, there is a way. The cities of San Leandro and Fremont are actively supportive of the maker and creative economy, recognizing that these sectors have the greatest impact on providing living wage jobs and defining a community’s culture.

What is your biggest fear?

That we have missed the opportunity in Oakland to firmly secure the presence and growth of existing artists and creatives and become another Brooklyn instead of highlighting and preserving Brooklyn Basin. San Francisco has SOHO’d. And that I might have to relocate to San Leandro after experiencing a 40 percent increase in rent here.

Describe the most exciting possibility for your industry.

I would like to see a zero-waste policy for Oakland that would support municipal collection of textiles, the second most polluting industry in the world after oil.

Two wheels good

Jason Wallach

owner, Laurel Cyclery, a full-service bicycle shop in East Oakland and the Lower Hills (3715 MacArthur Boulevard, LaurelCyclery.com)

How’d you get into the bike biz?

I was trained as a mechanic in the late-1980s and worked in shops on and off since then. I served as a bicycle mechanic at the Occupy Oakland encampments and have worked with the San Francisco-based Bicis de Pueblo, which refurbishes used and abandoned bikes and gets them into the hands of underprivileged youth. The shop is located on MacArthur Blvd. near High Street and has been open for two years.

If you were in charge, what one thing would you do to improve the local economy?

I would pass an immediate, renter-friendly rent-control ordinance on all units not covered under existing state regulations. Then, I’d head to Sacramento to repeal the Ellis Act and Costa-Hawkins. Fair and affordable rents are the key factor in determining whether Oakland’s longtime residents stay in the Town, or whether they are displaced to Richmond, Antioch, or beyond. The definition of community disintegration is the family that’s forced to move because of rising rents.

What keeps you passionate about your work?

The people of Oakland who are passionately dedicated to bringing about an equitable, socially just economic system to our community.

How do you anticipate your industry will change in the next decade?

The bike industry will continue to consolidate globally. The large parts manufacturers, like Shimano, will continue to sell to a reduced number of distributors. This will increase the advantage of volume sellers, such as Performance Bikes, REI, where most people purchase. This will increase pressure on smaller shops who have to pay higher prices for basic parts and materials. In light of this, local bike shops will have to do what we’ve always done: provide superior service, build strong connections with schools and community groups, and be good neighbors in the places where our shops exist.

What is your biggest fear?

That Oakland’s Black community, and with it Black cyclists, could be completely displaced within the next five to ten years. This would be an historic failure on the part of our city’s leadership.


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