Buy Oakland Grown this holiday season!

November 28, 2008

Happy Black Friday! Today is the biggest shopping day of the year, and even with a down economy, malls are still expecting throngs of shoppers out for bargains. This year, though, I’m trying an experiment: I’m striving to buy all locally-made gifts from locally-owned shops. We try to shop this way most of the time anyway, but this holiday season, it’s even more critical, with local stores struggling to survive.

Oakland Grown

Why shop locally? Well, a recent study found that Oakland is currently losing an estimated $1 billion of sales of comparison goods (that’s clothing, gifts, furniture, household items, etc.) to other cities. Yep, you read right— that’s one BILLION dollars that could be coming to Oakland-based businesses—talk about a stimulus package! While local goods may cost a bit more (and even that isn’t always true), your dollars are helping to sustain retail and create jobs in our city. You’re also paying local sales tax, which in Alameda County helps to fund BART, ACTIA (a transportation agency that’s brought all sorts of great projects), and health care, among other things. And remember how great free shipping sounded? Turns out it’s not free at all—having a box sent to you from halfway across the country (or halfway around the world) contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn fuels climate change. Choosing local products from local stores is an investment in both the city and the planet.

It’s tougher than you’d think, though. Turn over half the things you’re eyeing and you’ll see that “Made in China” stamp. We’ve been trying to stick to American-made goods for several months now, and have really struggled. We need a dining room set, for instance, and after a year of unsuccessfully watching Craigslist for a good used set, we headed out to see what Oakland’s furniture shops had to offer. But every time we saw a set we liked, we’d find it had been made in China or Indonesia. At one local furniture shop, I explained our quandary, and the owner sighed. “If you’d told me five years ago that we’d ever be selling furniture made in China, I would’ve laughed. But it’s the only way we can stay alive now.” She directed me to their restored vintage pieces and to the one line of Amish furniture they carried, but nothing was quite right. (After much searching, we eventually settled on a set from Berkeley’s Wooden Duck, which makes furniture locally from reclaimed wood.)

Luckily, though, Oakland has an abundance of wonderful local shops that do carry many American-made (and even Oakland-made!) products, and now there’s a terrific team of folks helping to market those shops. This year, the Shop Oakland project (run by the City and the Oakland Merchants Leadership Forum) has teamed up with Oakland Unwrapped!, the brainchild of the fabulous Erin Kilmer-Neel, to launch the Oakland Grown campaign. Find out exactly where to buy what you need from a locally-owned Oakland business or artist. You get your gifts, and our small businesses get a much-needed holiday boost.

So this year, give it a try. Spend a day shopping on one of Oakland’s great commercial districts: have coffee and a pastry at Arizmendi and then take a stroll down Lakeshore and Grand by the lake. Shop Piedmont Avenue and end your trip with some ice cream from Fenton’s or gelato from Tango Gelato. Take your kids for pizza at Zachary’s and then spend the afternoon gift-hunting in Rockridge. Pop in to the local shops in Dimond, Fruitvale, Montclair, Temescal or Chinatown. Just can’t avoid a big-box shopping trip for some of the things on your list? Don’t forget that there are a number of stores in JLS and along the Emeryville border where you can get what you need and still keep your dollars in the city. (Oakland and Emeryville share revenues from East BayBridge Center, the big block of stores along 40th Street.) Or find the Oakland commercial district nearest you and see what’s there.

If you really can’t find it in Oakland, try Berkeley, Emeryville, or other nearby cities before you go online. (Berkeley is running their own buy local campaign this year, and a number of stores there are offering prizes and raffles as an incentive.) Oakland also has a sea of wonderful holiday events to visit while you’re out on your shopping expedition. As for my own holiday shopping experiment, I’ll follow up with a post-Christmas/Hanukkah post to let you know what I find and where. I already have some favorite spots, but I’m excited to try exploring some of the shopping districts I don’t spend too much time in to find out what surprises might be hiding there. Have fun!

Visit the Oakland and Berkeley “Shop Local” campaigns:

More on why you should buy locally:

Local holiday shopping events:

Other Oakland holiday events:



  1. A most excellent and informative post. Thanks from a fellow Oaklander.

  2. [moved from About page]
    Love your blog and especially the entry on Oakland Grown. I’m on the marketing committee for the Oakland Merchants’ Leadership Forum. Oakland Grown is our creation.

    Thanks for the write up and how did you find out about our campaign?

    ~Tina Tamale

  3. [moved from About page]
    Thanks, Tina! We keep tabs on both Shop Oakland and Oakland Unwrapped, so I learned about the new campaign pretty early on. It does a terrific job of extending the “locally grown” concept from the food system, which people seem to have embraced, to the retail sector, which is still a new idea for many Oaklanders—kudos to your team!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: