My apologies for the website’s crash last month shortly after the March Newsletter was published. I won’t dwell on the root causes, but it was a symptom of the growing pains that we may occasionally experience as the “Splash Pad News” evolves into a far superior publication that better serves the community. Meanwhile, Raul Audelo (who built the website free of charge) has addressed a few of the website issues and, hopefully, you’ll be able to enjoy this month’s newsletter with relatively few problems.
If you’re one of the hundreds of subscribers who gave up on the March Newsletter, I’d urge you to, at a minimum, check out these highlights from last month: The Valentine’s Day Tribute Keila Diehl wrote for our Grand Lake District merchants; Kathleen Boergers’ report on Aisle Five ; LZ’s blog about X-Core Studio and Sheila McCormick’s story about the Feet on the Street program in Cleveland Heights, as well as a brief report regarding the condo development proposed for the corner of MacArthur and Wesley Avenues.
That said, on to the April News beginning with five posts from our contributing reporters.
A biologist and an anthropologist sat down to talk about coffee, and the conversation spread out in ever larger circles from its starting point under a palm tree: the popular Anfilo Ethiopian coffee tent at the Grand Lake Farmers Market, where customers “come in, sit down, chat, and move on.” (Spoiler: there is no “to go” coffee in this story).
REVITALIZED ASTRO PARK TOT LOT NEARS COMPLETION (UPDATED)
by Kathleen Boergers
The Astro Tot Lot Revitalization began to take shape in early December, thanks to a large group of volunteers coordinated by Abel Guillen’s office and with assistance from the Parks and Recreation Department, PG&E, and KaBOOM. Since then, the community has awaited the finishing touches that need to be completed before the fences can come down. An ADA contractor is currently installing a bouncy playground surface, a new ADA parking space, and a water filling station. The water station will be accessible to people of all heights and will be a nice replacement for the water fountain that was often clogged
Kinja Sushi Bar & Restaurant brings Japanese flavors back to the neighborhood in a fun and modern atmosphere at the former Ta-Ke Sushi location.
When Ozumo closed its 8,000 sq. ft. sushi restaurant on Broadway last November (as reported on Inside Scoop), owner Jeremy Umland mused that he might consider opening a similar restaurant in Oakland on a smaller scale. But another restauranteur beat him to it. On March 6, Joe, owner and chef, opened Kinja Sushi Bar & Restaurant in the former Ta-Ke Sushi location at 357 Grand Avenue.
This month, I’m focusing on Alchemy Bottle Shop, which is just a few doors down the block at 3256 Grand. It’s been a favorite of mine ever since they opened three years ago. It’s a perfect time to be discussing Alchemy, since they’ll be celebrating their third anniversary next Saturday, April 8 (details below).
EXPLORING OUR NEIGHBORHOODS ON FOOT AND WITH CAMERA
by Sheila McCormick
A fifth neighborhood walk, this time in Adams Point. 2.82 miles, with a 152 ft. rise in elevation. Walk starts and ends at Grand and Euclid. You will see some historical houses (e.g., 88 Vernon, former residence of Governor Earl Warren and now administrative offices for Clausen House; 385 Bellevue, designed by Julia Morgan; and 399 Bellevue, designed by C.W. Dickey, who also designed the Claremont Hotel), as well as other points of interest including the Healthy Community Mural. Sheila’s complete post for walk #5 (including 16 photos) is available at this link.
A sixth neighborhood walk, 3.51 miles and 275 ft.rise in elevation. Start at La Parisienne for coffee or a snack, then head up Elwood, see an interesting garage door and a little free library with bunny ears (for Easter?), enjoy a peek at the Morcom Rose garden from above, see big and/or brightly painted houses, and eventually arrive at Dracena Quarry Park, where you can try out the climbing wall before heading back down to Grand. Walk #6 was just posted today on Facebook with 13 photos at this link.
LAKESHORE AND LAKE PARK
Last month, we reported on the news that had come as a shock to virtually everyone – namely, that Michel Bistro had been sold. I’ve since had a lengthy conversation with new owner, Seth Bregman. He and his wife, Jennifer, have lived in the greater Grand Lake area since the early ’90’s and in 2009, moved into a home just off Trestle Glen. They feel very much a part of this diverse community and welcome the opportunity to contribute to it by extending the hugely successful run at Michel.
Basically, the food menu will remain the same as well as the staffing. The one big difference will be in the beverage department. For a great many years, Seth’s passion has been the art of cocktail mixing, and that passion has found expression through his cocktail catering business, BARDO LLC. Over the next few months, Michel customers will find new cocktails popping up on the restaurant menu. As an interesting aside, I suggested to Seth that he introduce himself to Tim Nugent – co-owner of Shakewell and self-anointed Mayor of Lakeshore Avenue. When I also mentioned that Tim has been actively lobbying for a revival of “Lakefest,” the Lakeshore street festival, Seth recalled fondly that, circa 2000, he was in a band that performed at a previous Lakeshore festival. Maybe we can get him to do an encore – particularly since 77% of neighbors in the Grand Lake Neighbors survey were in favor and only 7% opposed.
The abrupt closure of Spettro’s – after what seems like forever – was equally surprising. Co-owner Maurice Himy, who co-owned the establishment with Chafiq Fdaouch, phoned me in reply to an email inquiry and expressed his disappointment over their inability to make a go of their restaurant venture. He confided that they love the neighborhood and are very appreciative of the support they had received, but the customer rush on weekends couldn’t compensate for the negative cash flow the other four days of the week. In retrospect, I’m wishing that they had made a bigger effort to regularly incorporate dishes from their native Morocco into the menu. Amongst all the comments in a discussion on Nextdoor, Richard Weiss wrote, “They served a lamb tagine with saffron couscous that knocked my socks off.”
According to the newest owners, Omar Abid and Imane Akhbiriq, chicken and beef tagines will be a regular staple on the menu, along with other Moroccan specialties such as couscous. In a nod to all of Spettro’s long-time loyal customers, they’ve retained one of the Spettro chefs, who will continue to prepare pizzas and ravioli and, most importantly, the famous garlic caesar salad. To guarantee authenticity, however, the Moroccan dishes will be supervised and prepared by folks who grew up cooking, serving, and eating Moroccan foods. In doing so, they’ll lean heavily on Imane’s experience as a restaurant owner in Paris.
When I met Omar this past Monday evening, workers were scurrying around moving ladders while painting inside and out. By Friday evening, the exterior window and door trim had been painted gold, and two “Moroccan Palace” signs had been hung. Tables and chairs were in place and new dishes and tableware were about to be unpacked. By noon Saturday, a third much larger sign had been attached high up on the facade and the tables were all set for an invitation-only dinner for family and friends. As to when they will be open to the public, I’m not entirely sure, but it should be soon. Once open, they’ll be serving lunch and dinner six days a week and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Closed Tuesdays.
Dress Best for Less is opened Saturday, April 1. Friday afternoon, just before a sneak preview for their volunteers, I met with DBFL President Gayle Sells to welcome her to the neighborhood and get some photos. I returned a bit later for a glass of wine, more photos, and the opportunity to meet Julia Kirillova, the shop manager, and Wendy Willrich, who founded DBFL in 1982.
The interior has been refurbished, and the shop has lots of merchandise (primarily women’s and children’s clothing) without seeming overly crowded. Everyone connected with the non-profit organization is excited about the move to Lakeshore and, in my opinion, Lakeshore should be excited to have DBFL as a new neighbor. With a well-established clientele and reputation, they should end up bringing more retail shoppers to Lakeshore, especially to the upper end where currently there’s less pedestrian traffic. For more information about DBFL, be sure to check out this lengthy article in the East Bay Times.
Penny Barthel, the Special Events Coordinator for Hipline, forwarded an open invitation to participate in their “3rd Annual Shimmy Pop-A-Thon” on Saturday, May 6 from 10AM to 2PM. One hundred percent of the proceeds from this free outdoor, choreographed dance party help support Oakland’s Elizabeth House, which provides housing and counseling services for women with children who have experienced homelessness, violence, or addiction. For more information or to sign up, please visit the Hipline website.
In the December 2015 Newsletter, I wrote about the closure of the Smoke Shop, which was named “Charlie’s” after the original owner. After his passing, it was operated by Peter Brady (pictured) who told me that he had sold the business and that “the new tenant will be pouring high-end coffee and serving pastries and will open early for the morning commute. Hopefully, we’ll have more info to add by next month.”
Sixteen months later than originally predicted, here’s the news about that shop. The owner is Chris Pankow, who grew up right around the corner on Walker and still lives here in the neighborhood. He’s got a couple of good excuses for the lengthy delay. He’s a contractor – a very busy and successful one – and the contracting business had to come first. In addition, he and his wife operate the “Club Deluxe” in San Francisco at the corner of Haight and Ashbury Avenues. With music scheduled there every single night, much-needed improvements mandated by City of Oakland inspectors again had to take a back seat. That said, he and members of his crew have been busy recently installing new plumbing and electrical and everything else that needed to be done. Hopefully, we’ll be eating their pastries and drinking their coffee by sometime next month.
I‘m sorry to report that Urban Furniture has lost their main space and scaled down their operations by focusing on the small, Urban Furniture Boutique next door, where they will continue to offer pre-owned clothing, household goods, and smaller pieces of furniture and accessories. The non-profit’s Director, Tracy Weaver, tells me that they’re also looking for a warehouse where they can stock larger pieces of furniture and use the boutique to refer customers. Their situation is akin to that faced by Maurice and Chafique at Spettro in that sales were insufficient to pay rent, utilities, and a salary for the at-risk, single mothers who were at the heart of their management training program.
The Grand Avenue clean-up on March 18th (organized by Eric Hughes) focused primarily on the tree wells and planters between the theater and Elwood. Twelve volunteers participated. Lots of weeds were pulled, litter removed, and new plants installed. Eric is now talking to Oakland Parking Partners – hoping we can get their support to install some new landscaping along the Grand Avenue entry to the parking lot. More photos and information are available in this Grand Lake Improvement Committee Facebook post.
Jeff Perlstein, owner of Sole Space, advised me that they’re about to diversify, as Taylor Jay, an Oakland-based clothing designer has signed on to share the shop effective the April 21st weekend. The Taylor Jay Collection clothing line is made right here in Oakland – as is a line of unique jewelry that Taylor will be featuring. Handbags handcrafted in Ethiopia by UnoEth will also be available.
Studio Grand’s event calendar for April is skimpier than usual. Maybe that’s because Program Director, Vanessa Camarena, took a couple of weeks off for a much-needed vacation and hasn’t had a chance to post updates. In any case, I have April 15 pencilled into my calendar not as “Income Tax Day” but, rather, as the night that Jarana Criolla will be serenading us with Peruvian Creole music. Coincidentally or not, Studio Grand has had a Peruvian “accent” for the past couple of months, as two Peruvian dance classes are winding down. In addition, from the other side of the continent, a weekly Capoeira Class for adults has just started.
For an always up-to-date business directory, click and save the…
This coming Wednesday, April 5, we’re holding a community meeting beginning at 7 PM in the Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church Library to discuss, in detail, why we’re asking the Oakland City Council to solicit outside bids for management of the Grand Lake Farmers Market. Background information is available in an Open Letter to the City Council dated February 10.
If you agree with any or all of the following statements, we hope see you on Wednesday evening:
• Our neighborhood market is so claustrophobic, I mostly choose to shop elsewhere.
• I’ve tripped and fallen (or seen others do so) in the eroded gravel beds, which can’t be replaced until a source of funding is identified.
• I’m upset by the grease stains in the Plaza and ongoing farmers market-related wear and tear to the park – particularly the lawns.
• I’m concerned about the structural damage in the park that’s unrelated to the market but, for which no funding is available. Specifically, the wood decking in the Plaza that’s collapsing and the Walter Hood designed light standard that was destroyed by a speeding vehicle – as were five of the nine Queen Palms in the street median that were installed as part of the Splash Pad project.
• I’d like to see our neighborhood farmers market offering features such as nutrition education and chef demos.
• I want a farmers market that doesn’t penalize farmers for reducing prices.
• I want a farmers market that actively supports the neighborhood commercial district, local schools, and Oakland-based artists and musicians.
If you share the above concerns and would consider serving on a non-profit Community Board tasked with managing the market, we’d send a chauffeur-driven limousine to pick you up if we had one.
Please RSVP to: email@example.com. If we have a very big response, we’ll move the meeting to Barnett Hall up the driveway to the left of the church.
Over the last couple of months, three new prepared food vendors have begun selling at the Grand Lake Market. The best news is that two are Oakland-based: Almond Milk and Broth Baby. The third, Lucky Dog BBQ Sauce, is from Fremont.
SPLASH PAD PARK
Downtown Oakland has received over 33 inches of rain since July. That’s 151% of normal for this date and, with a few exceptions, the California natives the Grand Crew volunteers planted in the last six months are loving it. That applies equally to the two other beds that the Splash Pad’s Grand Crew landscaped over the previous couple of years. Check out the three photos of those beds, and you’ll see that they’re “fat and sassy” and beginning to bloom. Of course, the weeds have been thriving as well, but we’ve been getting lots of weeding done at our monthly work days – thanks in large part to the extra help we’re receiving from the high school Key Clubs, as well as our Grand Crew regulars, including Victoria and Suzanne pictured on the right. Victoria doesn’t get a lot of credit, but she is the one who has been regularly pruning the trees on Lakeshore and Lake Park that were planted as part of the Complete Streets Project several years ago.
If turnout for our Earth Day Celebration on Sunday, April 23 is typical, we should be able to finish weeding all the beds, clean up the decomposed granite walkways, scrub the Names in Lights panels, and complete preparations for installation of a few isolated patches of decomposed granite adjacent to the Plaza. As was the case for the last several years, Judy Kahn from Beatie Street Preschool will be joining us with a bunch of their kids and parents. We’ll also be serving a huge lunch “catered” through donations from farmers market vendors and neighboring restaurants.
We’d love to have you join us, but we need to know in advance so we can be sure to have sufficient water, gloves, food, and tools. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
GRAND AVENUE FIRST THURSDAYS
Studio Grand‘s “Angels in Times of a Dictatorship” is a solo show of original paintings and drawings by Adrian Arias. This may be the best show ever. You owe it to yourself to go and, if you’re in the market for art for yourself or your place of business, the prices are incredibly reasonable.
Lou Grantham will be giving a free, hands-on spinning demo at San Francisco Fiber, 3711 Grand.
510 Brand is featuring painting by store employees: Brian Bailey, Culling Cahayag, Natalina Simi, and Natasha Reh + a DJ, drinks and snacks.
Urban Boutique is featuring a new show of recent paintings by Dave Mertens + beverages and small bites.
Jau Jou Studio is showing abstracts by Berkeley resident, Micah Liedeker.
Baraka Gallery is continuing to feature tiny beadwork masterfully handcrafted. The teapot is always on.
The Libertine is featuring local artists.
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate (next to Camino) is hosting a show of photographs by L. Slapar.
A complete list of all participating businesses including those offering special discounts is posted at: www.grandavenuefirstthursdays.com
ODDS AND ENDS
Several years back, I recall boasting in print that Lakeshore and Lake Park had zero vacancies and Grand virtually none, whereas some eight years earlier, there were roughly fifteen ground-floor vacancies on Grand alone. Although this has since become and remains a very hot commercial market, I must say that I’m troubled by all the closures in the past twelve months or so: Grand Fare Market (twice), Urban Furniture, Spettro, Posh, Collage Clothing, and Scarecrow Popcorn – not to mention Grand Bakery and Rose Quartz, whose owners decided that this was a good time to retire.
What contributed to those closures undoubtedly varies from one business to the next, but increasing rents and labor costs are certainly a factor (especially for small locally-owned enterprises), as are the kinds of market forces that Keila Diehl wrote about in her “It Takes a Collage” story. And, I’d hasten to add, this is actually a national phenomenon, as verified by a recent Yahoo Finance article that listed sixteen major chains that are making major cutbacks, including Sears, Macy’s, Foot Locker, Office Depot, Pier 1 Imports, CVS pharmacies, and Staples. Foot Locker, for example, closed 51 stores during the last quarter of 2016 and 100 more are scheduled for closure this year, while CVS Pharmacy is planning to shutter 70 stores over concerns related to the status of Obamacare. This is extremely fluid and, if we want independent, locally owned businesses to survive and prosper, we have to provide them with support.
A Taste of Spring, the annual fundraiser for the Oakland Parks and Recreation Foundation’s Youth Scholarship Fund, will be held on Thursday, May 4, from 5:30 PM – 9:00 PM at the California Ballroom, 1736 Franklin Street. This year’s Anne Woodell Community Award honorees are: Rue Mapp, the founder of OutDoor Afro; Stan Dodson, the founder of OaklandTrails.org and the Oakland Volunteer Bike Patrol; and Barry Weiss (posthumous), who was the first president of the board of the Oakland Parks and Recreation Foundation.
Entertainment will be provided by Oakland-based artist and acrobat Nikki Borodi, as well as the East Oakland Sports Complex youth dance class and the Oakland Civic Orchestra. Food will be provided by the Red Door Catering Group. A wide array of silent and live auction items will be available for bidding. Tickets and more information about the event are available on this link.
One of our favorite local establishments, Oaktown Spice Shop, is hosting a “Farm to Table, Chocolate Truffle and Bonbon Workshop” on Wednesday, April 12. Reservations are required as spaces are limited.
Of the approximately one hundred Earth Day volunteer events in Oakland, Splash Pad Park is virtually the only one scheduled for a Sunday. All the other are on the preceding day, Saturday, April 22. Here in the immediate neighborhood, there’s lot to choose from including Morcom Rose Garden and five or six locations in or around Lake Merritt. A complete list with additional information is available on this City of Oakland link.
Lakeshore Avenue’s 30th Annual Easter Parade & Spring Festival takes place Saturday, April 15 beginning at 10:30 AM at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church. Highlights include Easter hat decorating, a parade, baskets of goodies, face-painting, and corn dogs. Details are on the Lakeshore Business Improvement District website.
- Wednesday, April 5, 7-8:30 PM: Community meeting to discuss farmers market management
- Thursday, April 6: Grand Avenue First Thursdays
- Wednesday, April 12: Chocolate Truffle and Bonbon Workshop at Oaktown Spice Shop
- Saturday, April 15, 10:30 – 12:30: Lakeshore Easter Parade and Spring Festival
- Wednesday, April 19, 7 – 8:30 PM: Grand Lake Neighbors meeting – Lakeshore Baptist Church family room
- Saturday, April 22, 9 AM – Noon: Oakland City-wide Earth Day Celebrations – except at Splash Pad (see below)
- Sunday, April 23, 9 AM – Noon: Splash Pad Park’s Volunteer Earth Day Celebration