Thursday, owners of the Oakland Spa moved items from their store while Nate Smith, owner of Coffee With a Beat, sold photos, books, and other memorabilia on the sidewalk in front of his iconic coffee shop. He’s been in the same spot for nearly 16 years.
“It’s not up to us,” Smith told the Express.
The building’s current owner, according to county records, is Urban Neighborhood Bay Area, LLC. (UNBA), a Delaware company with a Denver mailing address. That company is a subsidiary of the Laramar Group, a multi-billion dollar firm that is headquartered in Chicago and owns and manages over 12,000 housing units nationwide.
A representative of Laramar Group’s San Francisco office declined to comment on the evictions when contacted by the Express today.
The residential units are not affected by the evictions because they’re protected under Oakland’s Just Cause ordinance. However, several studios and apartments above the shops are currently for rent. According to Laramar’s web site for the property, a studio starts at $2,095 and a two-bedroom rents for $2,850 a month.
The company is advertising the building as being located “in the trendy Adams Point neighborhood of Oakland” and “within walking distance of some of the Bay Area’s hottest bars and restaurants, popular shopping destinations and public transportation.”
The building changed ownership several times in the past few years before it was bought by Laramar. Smith says he tried to secure a lease with each of the three different building owners over the last four years.
“I wasn’t really worried at the time because I figured eventually someone would give me a lease,” he said. “The last people said they wouldn’t give me a lease, and if I don’t like it, just leave.”
But he didn’t leave. That was until Laramar gave all the merchants a two-month notice to move out.
It was a “big shock” to Majula Jallow, owner of Fama’s African Braids. She’s been operating a salon in the area for 12 years, the last eight of which were in the same building as Coffee With a Beat.
“I called [UNBA] and they said there’s nothing we could do,” Jallow told the Express. “They didn’t give me any reason.”
Her new store, which she expects to open by Saturday, is located at 2225 Park Blvd. on the East Side of Lake Merritt. She said she will miss the neighborhood she’s been in since 1996.
For Smith, the eviction means retirement. He was hoping to pass the shop onto one of his sons, but with higher rents across the city, he can’t find a place that would replicate the space and vibe of Coffee With a Beat.
Since word got around he was closing, plenty of people have come by to share their memories of the shop.
“The main concept was to have a neighborhood coffee shop, something like a Cheers where people come in and everyone knows your name, and people come to relax,” said Smith. “You can stay as long as you want. If you want to debate politics or sports or whatever, you could do it here with no threat. You wouldn’t have to worry about anyone being mad at you. You could just get your debate on, shake hands, and come back the next day.”
Smith will be there Friday, packing up the last of his belongings. He said he’s willing to hear more stories from those who used Coffee With a Beat as a second living room, an office, or just a place where friends come to meet.