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Oakland at Work: OwlNWood

on December 11, 2015

The Sun took off her raincoat over Downtown Oakland on Thursday, and outside OwlNWood, at 45 Grand Avenue, the air smelled faintly of fresh rain.

OwlNWood is a small boutique selling vintage clothing, artisanal jewelry, and skincare products. As you step inside, your nose is met with a potpourri of sandalwood, musk, and hints of Nag Champa incense. Your ears are greeted with a stream of soul and electronica.

A few steps inside, an elderly white lady sits in a barber’s chair as a young stylish Black woman shapes up her frayed gray hair. “This feels so nice, like a massage or something,” the older woman exclaims.

Nearby is a wall-sized headshot of Jimi Hendrix. He has a twinkle in his eyes and a sly smile. There is a silkscreen of an owl and a lone feather on the other walls. American Southwestern blankets are draped over the upstairs railing.

Rachel Konte, a woman in her late 40s, is the proprietor. She sits in front of Jimi at the counter. With cinnamon brown skin, wavy black hair pulled back in a bun and a glint of light in her eyes, she is dressed in a heavy gray wool caftan, matching leggings with black riding boots. She is using Square to ring up some sales.

Browsing through the clothing racks, there’s a theme to her latest vintage pieces. “I’m kind of obsessively collecting sweaters of all kinds,” Konte said, “but I think we have a really beautiful selection of older sweaters that are kind of hand-knitted Irish sweaters, mixed in with 80’s and 90’s styles that have fun patterns and unexpected looks. Then we hang everything in color. So it’s little bits of styles of color floating around the store.”

The elderly lady gently rises from the barber chair and grasps her nearby walker. She slowly rolls over to a full-length mirror. She smiles and quips, “She should have taken more off the back.” Konte and the barber laugh. The woman is quite happy with her ‘do and resumes meandering around the store.

Konte said she works part-time at the store and has a couple of employees. She spends her other hours searching for vintage clothing. She compares it to being a fishmonger who goes every morning to the market to bid and buy the best fish from sellers.

Amy Winehouse comes on the speakers, a reminder of a gone-too-soon talent.

“I think the vibe of the store makes people play a certain type of music,” Konte said. “I will play everything from Tom Waits to newer music like Assan, a little bit more alternative. … It fits the flavor of the store, I think.”


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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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