Oakland’s Jack London District is one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods, with median incomes more than twice that of the city’s average. Recent statistics of this historically industrial neighborhood list over 60,000 residents in mostly non-family households, with condo developments providing most of the residential property available.
Even still, residents have long complained that the redevelopment of the neighborhood hasn’t included basic necessities and amenities, with the lack of an all-purpose grocery store at the top of their list. A team of community members are hoping to fill that gap.
Enter Portside Community Market, a start-up grocery store project, helmed by co-founders Tommaso Boggia, a Jack London resident and board member of the Jack London District Association, and La Wanda Knox, a small-business consultant.
“Our mission is in three parts,” said Boggia. “Serve the Jack London community with a full-service grocery store, promote the incredible diversity of local producers and create good jobs with leadership growth opportunities, which is something that Oakland and the Jack London neighborhood needs.”
The Portside team has been tabling at the Jack London farmers market to raise awareness and recently completed an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the initial stage of the project.
The Indiegogo campaign fell short of its total goal, but Boggia explained that with the funds raised, “We are hiring a team of lawyers that specialize in direct public offerings. We want to serve the community and we want our investors to be a part of the community.”
The team hopes to structure the grocery store as a worker-owned cooperative with a curated, high-end selection inspired by San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery and Bi-Rite Market, and People’s Community Market, a similar project underway in West Oakland that is also a direct public offering, allowing local residents to invest directly in the business.
The Portside team said that the response from residents has been mostly positive, but there has been some resistance.
Knox, a former 7-11 consultant who now works independently with small businesses, said that she did a great deal of research on food deserts, economic justice, food policy and food justice when beginning the project, and explained that many people in Jack London are seeking “to attract a commercial grocery store to Jack London – like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s,” she said.
“When they hear about us being a community, worker-owned cooperative – we’re not that [corporate venture], and we’re not trying to be. People are a little suspect of it. I think we will be better and have more to offer than a commercial grocery store would,” said Knox.
Others who shop in nearby Chinatown have also criticized the project, Boggia said.
“We use ‘food desert’ to describe Jack London, which can be a little strange, because Chinatown is full of food,” he said. “But they don’t necessarily cater to non-Asian shoppers [or] source local produce or organic produce.”
Aiming to appeal to the changing demographic of Jack London District, Portside Community Market doesn’t have a physical space yet. Boggia estimates that it will need to raise roughly 2.5 million dollars over the next two years to open its doors by 2015.
“It all depends on how quickly we can raise the money,” said Boggia.
In the meantime, as the team works toward rolling out their direct public offering by summer of 2014 and strengthening community support of the market, Jack London District’s redevelopment continues as well.