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Oakland startup helping small businesses “pop up” around town

on April 23, 2013

Old Oakland’s downtown business district is getting a facelift. Brick and mortar stores are making a comeback.  New establishments are showing up in neighborhoods where there were once empty storefronts. One company has found a way to invest in people and add a little pop to the community.

Popuphood is a startup company in Oakland helping to revitalize neighborhoods and give entrepreneurs an opportunity to grow their businesses at the same time. Sarah Filley and Alfonso Dominguez are good friends and the brains behind the project. Dominguez owns a taqueria, restaurant, and a bar in old Oakland and is a long time resident. Sarah Filley is a local artist, writer and urban designer.

“There was just not a lot of investment in retail in Oakland when we started the program,” said Filley. “This neighborhood has great bars and restaurants, but throughout Oakland at that time there was not a lot of retail. So we wanted to solve the problem of vacancies immediately, using retail as a way to rethink revitalization and also prototype this new initiative in Old Oakland.”

The old model wasn’t working anymore. This is the concept of owning your own business the DIY way. Do it yourself from the planning stage to the execution, Dominguez said.

The old model called for someone to come in and sign a lease.  They had to have at least $20,000 to $50,000 of working capital. It was a matter of figuring out how to rethink the process and lower the entry point so that the costs associated with starting a business would be more affordable.

“They are able to save that capital and use it on inventory, use it on their branding and get their store together, build it out if they need to,” Filley said.

Popuphood launched its business in 2011. At the time there were five vacancies on one block. This is what Filley called a visual indicator of the need for new business opportunities.

“Retail stores here lose $1 billion a year from consumers who take their shopping elsewhere,” Dominguez said.  They go to San Francisco or Emeryville.  Now popuphood is working to provide them with options to buy things in Oakland and support the local businesses.

When business owners, city officials and community members gathered in early 2011 to discuss the rash of store closings, Dominguez made a proposal: Give the storeowners free rent for six months. If they are successful, they end up with a long-term lease. They liked it.

“It was a win-win,” Dominguez said.

With sponsorships funded through the City of Oakland Tenant Improvement Program, popuphood was able to work with the city and its business owners and create a unique collaboration between the groups that has helped improve business and increase revenue in Old Oakland. Among those businesses area the five stores popuphood has helped to launch.

“We signed a lease!” yelled Kayoko Akabori and Yoko Kumano the owners of Umami, when they invited a group of friends and business owners to help them celebrate at their lease signing party. They sell Japanese barware and kitchen items and are one of the five businesses popuphood has helped to launch.

“This is so exciting, embarking on something totally new,” Akabori said. “We had six months to test it out and we really felt confident that this could work,” she said about the decision to sign a long-term lease for a space that was once an old empty gallery.

Filley and Dominguez said they have learned a lot since the business opened. Three of the five businesses have gone from popups to permanent establishments. The increase in foot traffic in the area has made Old Oakland a destination spot, not only where people come to eat and drink, but also to shop,” Dominguez said.


  1. Sami on April 25, 2013 at 11:28 am

    This is wonderful! Keep up the good work.

  2. Dante Frizzoli on May 15, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    This is wonderful indeed! Small businesses account for 60% of the jobs in the country and will continue to do so as long as these kinds of things keep happening. Good work Oakland!

  3. […] Three of the stores have signed long-term leases. The presence of these new retailers has brought increased foot traffic to the neighborhood, because now people have a reason to go […]

  4. Trivia on December 6, 2013 at 11:17 am

    How do I get information on applying for a pop up shop in oakland?

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