Grand Avenue Merchant News – March 2024

by Ken Katz

This month’s Grand Avenue update begins with a report on the Art Walk, which took place on the evening of February 8. We’ll talk about the participating stores and the art. We also have an update about the businesses along the Avenue.

Finally, I went down memory lane and include a little history of the Art Walks and First Thursdays on Grand.

Grand Avenue Art Walk

Attendance at the Grand Avenue Art Walk on February 8 may have been a bit lower than anticipated due to iffy weather but everyone who participated had a great time and found the guided tour led by Tracey Williams from Urban Furniture to be especially fun and informative. At each stop, Tracey introduced the store owner who then shared with the group the story of their shop and some of the unique items they carry. Participants got a chance to look around and ask questions before moving to the next venue.


As was the case with the previous walk in November, the tour started at Michael’s Chocolates where attendees sampled chocolates, gelato and hot cocoa. (below/left)

The next stop was Panorama Framing. The week before, the shop had held an Artists’ Reception for a show featuring two local artists: Karen Stanton and Charlene Will. Their artwork has continued to draw a lot of positive attention — especially Stanton’s terrazzo sculptures in the front window. (Stanton is shown below in the above/right photo taken at the reception.)


The group also stopped at The Sanctuary, a 100% sustainable, Black, queer woman-owned new apothecary, apparel and home decor boutique filled with sustainably and locally-produced materials.


The group’s next stops were at Ikaros Greek Restaurant and at Melo Melo Kava Bar. Ikaros’ owner greeted attendees with an assortment of Greek specialties while Chris Granillo, who vends at the Farmers’ Market (seen at left), showcased his artwork.

Melo Melo was a last-minute addition to the tour. Inside, everyone marveled at the lush green living wall while sampling Kava for the first and, in a couple of cases, for the first and second time.


The next stop was at ReLove (right), a lovely new addition to the Avenue that showcases used, vintage, and repurposed clothing and furniture.


We also stopped at MegaDeluxe (below) and met the artist, Fanny Garcia, a printmaker and photographer, who designs the patches for their caps and t-shirts. MegaDeluxe originally opened with a focus almost entirely on caps and patches that customers would choose and owner Wes Garcia  would sew onto the caps on the spot. The store has since added a line of caps that declare your affinity to the Grand Lake Theater, the City of Oakland, etc.  Wes has most recently ventured into the world of highly collectible Special Edition Sneakers for men, women, and youngsters — primarily Jordans and Nike Dunks that will be available to buy, sell, or trade during pop-ups on Saturdays and Sundays from 12-4.


Across the street, the group dropped into 8 AM Fashion (see article about Meaza Haile in the Farmers’ Market section), and Alyce’s on Grand (shown at left). We met the owners and got a chance to learn about their fashion sense.


CC Down, owner of TwoTwo, revealed that his store was proudly offering high-quality, unique products representing 40 designers from all over the world. When we took the above photos of their newest line of jewelry which is hand-cast in silver, that number was up to 41.

Up the street, Lee’s Discount Flowers spontaneously handed roses to attendees as they filed into their next-door neighbor, TwoTwo. The roses were much appreciated by all; reports are that they lasted for more than a week.


When I met with Tracey after the event, she was pleased that, judging by the turnout on February 8, support for this quarterly event is on the rebound. She expects that for the next art walk on May 2, publicity will be improved; more artwork will be on display, and most likely, more shops will be participating in one way or the other.

Other Grand Lake Business News

Smittys Bartender

Smitty’s

As we reported on February 1, JJ Jenkins and Shari Murphy, the new owners of Smitty’s Lounge promised to have the doors open sometime that month. After observing years of similar predictions gone awry, I was pleasantly surprised (actually shocked) to see that they had delivered in time for the February 8 Art Walk. Two weeks later, a return visit found a squeaky-clean pool table in the back adjacent to a neon-lit jukebox and up by the front door, a Creature From the Black Lagoon pinball machine. The most consequential improvement, however, is the four mural panels by Wythe Bowart, one half of a team that calls itself the Bristle BrothersBy the time Smitty’s celebrates a formal Grand Opening on March 30, the neon sign on the frontage should be re-installed and Bowart will have covered the back wall with yet another mural.

For the record, just so we won’t be accused of promoting false advertising, we have to clarify that Smitty’s chalk board reminds me of an old-time classic song: Yes! We Have No Bananas! When I asked Max Ham (the bartender pictured above who, by the way, used to work at The Libertine), he replied, “Yes. There’s no free beer and yes I’m not going topless but we are open seven days a week from 11am – 2am; I do pour a good drink and we’re always happy to have you as our guests.”


Bake Sum

Down the block, Joyce Tang, owner of Bake Sum was glowing when we talked to her last weekend. As is common knowledge, free publicity is the very best kind, and their inclusion in the February 8 edition of Check Please Bay Area on KQED-TV was no exception. According to Joyce, “The next day, we were slammed and that continued all through the weekend.”  BTW: In addition to a wonderful array of sweet savory baked goods, they’re also now offering cookbooks, Baggu bags and other special treats.Suptea Lab, next door to Lynn & Lu’s, will be celebrating their official Grand Opening on March 22 through March 24 with a special offer: buy one drink and receive a coupon for a free drink on a return visit. Their regular hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 10:30 am-7:30 pm.


Ordinaire

Staff from Ordinaire will have just returned from eight days in Spain and Italy visiting some of their favorite vintners or as owner Bradford Taylor explained: “It’s hard work but somebody had to do it.” The big event on their March calendar is the Ninth Brumaire in Richmond on March 10. Although tickets are sold out, Ordinaire will be hosting an after-party from 5 pm until late that evening.


MeloMelo Kava Bar

MeloMelo Kava Bar’s March calendar is packed. In addition to all the regularly scheduled monthly events, on Friday, March 8, Cat’s Filipino Food will pop up outside while inside, Mr. Smart Money will be the DJ. The following evening, Jade DeFrancia will be showcasing her original songs. By the way, the emcee for the Monday night open mic is a talented, self-taught musician named, Jordan Brock. Just after leaving the event at Panorama I happened upon him strumming his guitar in the parklet out front and asked him to pose for the above photo.


Radbird

Radbird has been upping their game. In addition to tons of new offerings, they’ve enhanced the space with more plants and artwork.

Films playing at the Grand Lake Theatre in March include Kung Fu Panda 4, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, and Luca.


History of the Artwalk/First Thursdays events on Grand

During the course of the February 8 art walk, I had several attendees inquire about the history of the event, which is a bit complicated. A search of Splashpad News stories led to an excerpt from the April 30, 2013 edition that reported:

Plans for a monthly First Thursdays on Grand have come together very quickly over the last week or so. The first incarnation with four participating galleries begins this Thursday, May 2 from 6:00-9:00 PM. The main impetus for this event came from Rebooty’s Kathy Jensen.

In addition to Kathy’s gallery (which specialized in furniture, clothing, and artwork that was all repurposed), the other participants were Panorama Framing, which Patrick Cheatham had recently opened, Oak Common, and Galleria Scola. For that first event, eight other businesses offered specials — everything from a 15% discount at Miss Saigon and Grand Flowers to a free beverage at Cafe Romanat or free chips and salsa at Connie’s Cantina with purchase of one entree. 

In an October 28, 2013 email, Patrick announced that he had created a First Thursdays Facebook page. The above collage is just a small sample of the hundreds of pieces of artwork that were posted over the next half dozen years. By the way, this Facebook account has been dormant for the past several years but is going to be revived for this and future events.

By 2016, the list of participants had increased exponentially with approximately 10 of the 25 featuring artwork. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, attendance had actually been dwindling over time, beginning with the closure of Rebooty in 2014, and although Ruth Stroup from Farmers Insurance purchased posters and sandwich boards that year and others did whatever they could, the event continued to decline.

This September 2019 article reported that the number of participants was down to five: Urban Furniture, Jau Jou, 510 Brand, Alchemy Bottle Shop, and Panorama Framing. Although the numbers were low, the artwork was still first-class and well worth attending.

Four months later, in the midst of a quarantine, art walks were now verboten — although Tracey Williams does note that Urban Furniture shared artwork online during the worst of the pandemic. Once it was again safe to mingle, Tracey organized a mini-event with just Alyce on Grand, and Brother and Sisters Flower Shop. That was followed on July 20 of last year with an art walk she organized with help from Jason Canepa at Radbird which featured nine shops and again on November 2, when 13 businesses were involved.

Tracey’s goal is to make the art walk a quarterly event. Mark your calendar: the next one is slated for Thursday, May 2, 2024.


Ken Katz, author

Ken Katz founded the Splash Pad Neighborhood Forum in late 1999 and, in his role as Chair, coordinated the community efforts to lobby for a new park and subsequently served as a liaison to the City of Oakland and to Walter Hood’s office during the planning process. The first Splashpad Newsletters were emailed beginning circa 2006. He currently contributes to the monthly Splashpad News.


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