When entrepreneur Alfonso Dominguez and urban planner Sarah Filley teamed up to create “popuphood“—a cluster of locally owned pop-up stores aspiring towards permanence in downtown Oakland—they hoped, simply, that Oakland shoppers would actually show up. They hedged their bets—making sure that the ‘hood’s grand opening celebration coincided with the Old Oakland farmer’s market, an event that routinely brings crowds to the area. They got their neighbors on board—persuading 17 nearby bars, restaurants and shops to offer special discounts or special products to popuphood visitors. And as the hour neared, they scrambled to finish the spaces—buffing floors, painting walls and stocking product, even as the first few shoppers trickled in.
The stores officially opened Friday—next to the fruit and flower stands of the farmers market, and near the intersection of Broadway and 9th Street—and people from across the Bay Area made their way to downtown Oakland for a taste of the city’s homegrown wares, from hand-forged jewelry and artisan gifts to vintage clothing and custom bicycles.
“I’m just here doing some Christmas shopping,” said Leah Bennett, 48, who had read about popuphood on Oakland North and drove down from San Francisco to see what it was all about. By 2 pm on Friday, she had bought “three fabulous t-shirts” from Crown 9, a jewelry store that also sells a bit of apparel and some accessories, and was looking forward to a leisurely lunch at Dominguez’s nearby restaurant, Tamarindo. “They’re already wrapped and go under the tree,” she said, pointing to three boxes wrapped in brown butcher paper and tied simply, with red string. “And it only cost 25 cents!”
“We don’t really care about the 25 cents,” said Crown 9 co-owner, Sarah Swell, with a smile. “We just do that so people will know we offer the service.”
Her neighboring shop owners drew in customers through other means: A few storefronts down, Piper and John General Goods offered passers-by free gourmet chocolates and coconut water and its owners had set up a small art gallery in a back room of the store. At Manifesto Bicycles, shopkeepers put the finishing touches on a large, hand-painted logo positioned over the register. And at Sticks and Stones Gallery—which now sells artisan furniture in addition to fine art—co-owner Jason DiBardi scampered up a 9-foot ladder to finish installing specialty lighting in the mid-afternoon.
But Marion & Rose Workshop seemed to be the most popular of the five shops—at least on Friday afternoon—when co-owner Alissa Goss hurriedly but cheerily rang up purchase after purchase and fielded question after question from shoppers and browsers alike.
The grand opening was, for many visitors, an opportunity to rediscover Old Oakland, with its bricklined streets, notable restaurants, Victorian architecture and, now, retail shops.
For the shop owners, the grand opening was an opportunity to meet face to face with some of their online clientele—people they engaged with via their website and e-stores but had never met in person—as well as forge relationships with people who had never heard of them before.
Kate Ellen, co-owner of Crown 9, sold her jewelry online before signing up to become a popuphood vendor, “but that was not really working very well,” she said. “I really wanted to meet face to face with my customers on a consistent basis and build clientele, which is really the key to being successful. It’s really about developing relationships and so that’s why this store is so important.”
Domiguez hopes that popuphood will revitalize downtown Oakland, especially in light of the Occupy Oakland-related police actions, protests and violence that have occurred in recent months just blocks away from the new shops. For him, the grand opening was a chance to “occupy commerce.”
“I think regardless of our personal politics and ideology, we’re providing a way to invest locally,”
added Filley. “And if part of your ideology for Occupy Oakland is to divest from big box stores, big banks and big government, then put your money where your mouth is and come on down to popuphood—it’s a local, citizen-led initiative to revitalize Oakland.”