Oakland has some of the most successful ethnic-based small business districts in the country like a vibrant Chinatown (not a tourist mecca like SF), an expanding Latino district in the Fruitvale, and more. In fact, you could probably say that most of our small businesses are owned by women, people of color, and people who have come here from other parts of the world for a new start.
So while I heartily support a General Strike, and believe that Oakland’s example may lead us into a new form of national politics, I remain concerned about its effect on Oakland’s small local business folk.
We had been hearing- since before the attack on the Occupy Oakland encampment- that the businesses in downtown Oakland, especially around the City Hall Plaza were hurting. The afternoon before the police raid, I had been checking with businesses in the City Center Plaza and asking them how or if they had been impacted.
The deli right across 14th Street said business had dropped but that he couldn’t be sure why. Other owners and managers said they hadn’t noticed much difference, but that they had suffered due to construction that had taken place in the middle of the plaza during the height of the summer season.
Today I visited several of the businesses that border Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall. I asked the owners and managers how things had been going.
In Caffé Teatro, I found myself in the middle of a discussion about this subject between the owner and some of her customers. Mike Rufo was buying coffee and pastries. He told me that he supported the Occupy Wall Street movement and its Oakland incarnation and was there to “to make a special effort to support small businesses in Oakland.” He said he will also be participating in the General Strike on Wednesday.
Moji, the owner, who is from Iran said, “We were slow because of the encampment and the [police] closure of the plaza. People didn’t know we were open except the police.” She says that there was a smell coming from the plaza and that people indeed had been defecating and urinating more than before-even with the port-a-potties.
She mentioned another problem that businesses which depend on city employees have been experiencing. The furlough days that city employees have been forced to take, mean the closure of City Hall and a serious lack of customers on those days. Still, she says, “I agree with the idea [Occupy Wall Street] and what they are doing, but we need more business.”
Kheirya at the Plaza Café whose family is from Ethiopia and Yemen told me, “the first two weeks were slow but now, it’s much better.” She also said that the campers are organizing clean-ups, “People pick up everything [at the camp].”
I spoke with two more restaurant managers on the plaza, both owned by Vietnamese families, who felt that business had dropped after the police closure but was “picking back up.” They were taking it day-by-day.
When I turned the corner onto Broadway at the Awaken Café, I was very distressed to see that the glass door had been broken. They are in the middle of reconstruction so were not slowed because of it, but it’s still disconcerting. For now they have set up a temporary café in the Oakollectiv, a fashion destination for local designers and their aficionados.
That brings me to another topic-the possibility of Oakland businesses seeing any kind of destruction on Wednesday- even bank tellers are part of the 99%. Activities that take place in and around the banks should be very aware of their effects on local small businesses. Given the skills on display at the tense police stand-off Saturday night, I believe that protest organizers will work to prevent any negative impacts.
It’s possible that strikers will patronize small local shops this Wednesday, but since one of the demands of the General Strike is “no participation in the economy”, I’m calling for a special day to support our local small businesses.
I’m asking all of you who support Occupy Wall Street/ Occupy Oakland, or just love Oakland, to please take some of your meager earnings-we are, after all, the 99% – and spend some of it in our local shops and restaurants, cafes, services, or galleries.
If many of the visitors and campers, who come to support Occupy Oakland, would purchase lunch, a snack, a coffee, or-for those who can afford it-make an investment in local artists, that area could really thrive.
Please join me on Grant-Ogawa Plaza at one of the wonderful restaurants, cafes, or shops on Thursday, November 3rd. Remember that Oakland’s businesses invest in and believe in Oakland, not Wall Street-and we should, return the favor.