Each of our correspondents took roughly a 3 square-block walk around their neighborhood, taking stock of the area’s services, stores, homes, schools, and especially how people in the community were living their lives. The goal is to give real, detailed texture to our understanding of the quality of life in East Oakland’s neighborhoods from the perspectives of people who live there. These pieces were done in conjunction with Oakland Tribune Violence Reporting Fellow Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect project.
By Howard Dyckoff
In my neighborhood, there are no bookstores, or supermarkets or restaurants. There are no dress shops, no dry cleaners, no pharmacies or drugstores. These services lie a mile or two or three away, some still in Deep East Oakland, but not very close by.
A year ago, the thrice failed restaurant at the corner of MacArthur and 90th was reborn as Sherry’s, with new awning and a bright paint job. The business folded in 6 months, a shorter time than any of the previous tenants over the past 2 decades.
There was a Lucky’s once, on the edge of San Leandro, at Foothill Square, near 107th Ave. It’s been closed for years. It had been about 2 miles away. It remains empty, with a small laundromat nearby.
That’s typical of Deep East Oakland. Chains like Safeway and Walgreens serve Deep East Oakland from north of High Street or from San Leandro to the south. There’s even a Starbucks, near Dutton, in San Leandro.
There was a cell phone store. It advertised Metro PCS. It thrived in the early 2000s, but has been closed for over a year. There are auto repair shops and body shops and tire shops. With businesses and amenities so far away, keeping a car running is critical.
There are lots of churches, many occupying the empty storefronts and some expanding into larger buildings. But even some of the storefront churches are now boarded up, with “For Lease” signs in their windows. The long recession has taken a deep bite out of the neighborhood.
Eastmont Mall is 2 miles away. It has fast food – Burger King, McDonalds, Taco Bell – but no actual restaurants. But it recently acquired a CVS drug store and one of the longer term tenants of the mall is Gazzali’s Market, a moderate size food store that sometimes can match the pricing at Safeway or Luckys.
There are schools. Castlemont High School is nearby. About a mile away is the Barack Obama charter school, which is closing this month and may not reopen in the Fall. And adjacent to that school is a fire station, so there are first responders on the edge of the neighborhood.
But what is most common in Deep East Oakland are the liquor stores. They may be partly disguised as mini-marts, but the regular sale is alcohol, frequently available alongside cans of meat or veggies, loaves of airy bread, and quarts of milk on the edge of expiring. Sometimes there are oranges or apples. These have longer shelf lives.
There are some new Mexican food markets on International, many located in the 90s, where there are empty storefronts to rent. One, Mi Tierra, has opened 2 parallel stores that face each other across International. They carry fresh produce, dairy foods, meats, a wide range of groceries, and many brands of tortillas. They are revitalizing the area.
My street is fully residential. Its a dead-end street, ending at the local reservoir. It is a full 3 blocks down to Thermal St. and another 3 to 4 blocks to Mac Arthur Ave. Or take the steps, a right of way between 2 homes, that descends about 50 feet near a church parking lot and winds up near Castlemont High School.