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Vendors, visitors invited to Rockridge Out and About

on September 25, 2009

In Rockridge, one can shop, eat, or sit and read a book. One can people watch, meet friends for some drinks, or just take a stroll down the street. On Sunday, Oaklanders will do it all at the 3rd annual Rockridge Out and About Festival. Well, maybe not read a book, but they will certainly shop, enjoy live music, attend cooking demonstrations, view art and even picnic in the street.

150 merchants will flood College Avenue from Claremont to Manila and turn the street into an outdoor festival that will promote Rockridge area businesses, including a few that aren’t so obvious to passersby, like the second-floor chiropractor’s office that one may not have known leans over the first floor of a restaurant, or the real estate office that hovers over a clothing boutique.

The festival pushes businesses to be innovative about their displays, because hundreds of merchants will be vying for attention, said Sarah Wilson, who directs the Rockridge Out and About Festival and founded the Rockridge Market Hall 22 years ago. “The owner of Brass and Class sells bed frames and mattresses and is putting a mattress on the street for people to test out,” she said.

When the Market Hall Festival began it was mainly focused on food and wine, Wilson said, but in 2002, the Rockridge District Association, a Business Improvement District with the City of Oakland, decided to combine the Market Hall Festival with the general street fair. “We have to use the street fair as a way to showcase all the businesses,” she said.

Julianna Uruburu, the cheese director at the Pasta Shop, a specialty grocery store, said the festival is a great way to give back and say thanks to her customers. As well as drawing the community in to shop and eat, she said, the businesses draw in a diverse group of food producers. “Cheese makers come out. Local producers, jam producers, olive producers,” she said. “They love it!”

The local businesses also collaborate with each other. Liz Taylor owns two stores on College Avenue: Tootsies Shoe Boutique and a clothing store called Crush.  She will join forces with five other clothing boutiques and hair salons for the festival’s Rockridge fashion show, which will showcase their fall clothing. The businesses’ employees, customers and others from the neighborhood will stride the catwalk.

Taylor said she has been part of the Rockridge Out and About Festival for four years, but this is her second year in the fashion show. She said she feels it is very important that people are informed that the Rockridge merchants are independent merchants, so they work together. The businesses along College Avenue are nothing like Macy’s, she said, but their location gives them a matchless flare. “We as merchants are independent and are much different than the mall — we are part of the community and give a lot back to them,” she said.

Wilson estimates 15,000 to 20,000 people will attend Sunday’s festival and 50 to 60 percent will be newcomers to College Avenue. She said the festival allows businesses to reach new populations. “I had a friend from Montclair come last year and I suggested we walk the other way on College,” she said. “He said he had never been.”

Wilson said that during these hard economic times, a festival such as this one may give merchants a boost, but it’s really about the atmosphere. “People just love to wander down a closed street,” she said.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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