When Sam Cunningham and MacKay Gibbs started looking for a place to open a bicycle shop in Oakland, the corner of 40th and Webster was not on their radar.

Sam Cunningham and MacKay Gibbs in Manifesto.

Sam Cunningham and MacKay Gibbs in Manifesto.

“We were looking to open the shop in the Uptown neighborhood,” said Cunningham. But “no one wanted to work with us down there.” Then a friend with a store on Piedmont told them about the space for rent at 421 40th Street.

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Manifesto’s storefront.

“We saw how many people were riding by” on bicycles, Gibbs recalled. “It was kind of risky, because there was nothing else.” The deciding factor was the string of tiny windows across the top of the old storefront: the number of panes exactly matched the number of letters in the shop name. Manifesto bicycle shop was born.

Gibbs told a former co-worker, Steve Stevenson, about the empty storefront next to theirs. At the time, Stevenson said, “I was unemployed and the unemployment had run out on me.” His used and new music store specializing in vinyl, 1-2-3-4 Go! Records, shared a grand opening with Manifesto, in April of 2008.

Browers choose from a large selection of vinyl at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records.

Browers choose from a large selection of vinyl at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records.

“From day one people came in and supported it,” Stevenson said. “I outgrew that space pretty quickly.” When the corner space on the other side of Manifesto became available, he moved in and “business more than doubled by doubling the space I had.”

The record store’s move created a vacancy in the tiny 120 square foot space that, according to coffee shop owner Catherine Macken, “was just meant to become Subrosa!”

Brianna and Catherine Macken at Subrosa.

Brianna and Catherine Macken at Subrosa.

“I chose the location based on my love of the neighborhood,” she said. “I moved to this area in 2000 and it won me over with all of its unexpected charm.”

“The coffee spot is the hub,” Cunningham said. “Everyone rotates around the coffee shop.”

In 2012, Subrosa and Manifesto joined forces to turn two parking spaces in front of their businesses into a permanent parklet. Funded through a Kickstarter campaign, the parklet is one of only two parklets that have been built so far under Oakland’s pilot parklet program.

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Parklet on 40th Street.

“It was the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” said Gibbs. “Harder than opening our own business.” Cunningham added that it was also the best thing they ever did: an investment in the community that has yielded great dividends.

Gibbs and Cunningham believe the parklet was the edge that earned their storefront a spot in an Amex Small Business Saturday commercial shot in Oakland. “They would never have shot that if there were a bunch of cars there blocking the storefront,” Gibbs said.

After a couple of years on the southeast corner of 40th and Webster, 1-2-3-4 Go! was outgrowing its space again. Matt Becker, who owns the building across the street, often came over and hung out with Stevenson. Becker asked if Stevenson would be interested in a larger space across the street. “It was a bit of a risk,” Stevenson said, because his rent would triple. Plus, Becker insisted that he have live shows in the new space. “It was a crazy thing to hear a building owner say.” The risk paid off: business has tripled again in the new location, which includes an intimate space that hosts live shows four to six times a month.

Having one of Oakland’s most popular restaurants for a neighbor hasn’t hurt either. While customers wait for their names to be called at Homeroom, Stevenson said, they often browse for treasures at the record shop.

A crowd gathers outside Homeroom mac & cheese restaurant on a sunny day.

A crowd gathers outside Homeroom mac & cheese restaurant on a sunny day.

“We both love mac & cheese and there wasn’t another restaurant like it,” said Allison Arevalo, explaining why she and co-owner Erin Wade decided to open Homeroom three years ago. Like Gibbs and Cunningham, they had not considered 40th Street “because nothing was there.”

“We had actually looked at a lot of other neighborhoods in Oakland,” remembered Wade. A lease on a space in Uptown fell through. Before they opened, she and Arevalo sat in front of the space at 40th and Shafter at dinnertime to see how much foot traffic there was. Only three people walked by in an hour. The choice came down to the affordability of the space. “We thought we were settling and were praying the neighborhood would improve,” said Wade. “Luckily the neighborhood has improved way faster than we thought possible.”

“We’ve really been embraced by the local community,” she said, adding, “On any given night, half our customers are regulars.” The restaurant has also attracts visitors from afar. “Because mac & cheese is such a prototypically American food,” Wade said, “we’re a destination for a lot of international tourists.”

Nick St. Mary helps customers at Elder & Pine.

Nick St. Mary helps customers at Elder & Pine.

The newest addition to the neighborhood, in the corner space that once housed 1-2-3-4 Go!, is Elder & Pine, a vintage men’s clothing store with a focus on hiking and camping wear.

Nick St. Mary heard about the open space from his friend, Subrosa owner Macken. He and his wife own Pretty Penny, a women’s vintage store in Rockridge, and were looking to expand. By the time he had his grand opening in August of this year, the location seemed like a good place to start a new venture.

“I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 12 years,” St. Mary said. “This area is turning around.”

“I think it’s cool when people make the effort to go into a spot that’s been neglected,” said Cunningham, citing other parts of Oakland that could use some of that kind of attention.

Gibbs commented on the number of people moving into the neighborhood and gentrification beginning to creep in. But “it still feels like Oakland,” Cunningham said.

Wade and Arevalo are glad they landed in the neighborhood, despite their initial misgivings. “It’s really becoming a draw for independent business,” said Wade. “The whole corridor has a lot of life and a lot of possibilities.”

“When we opened, it was significantly more under the radar,” said Macken. “It has changed, but it is still exciting to be a spot where friends meet up [and] neighbors meet each other for the first time.”

“These are all people who sort of tossed their lot in to create something independent and new,” Stevenson said of the merchants on the block.  “They have made something that’s worth going to.”

 

This story is part of a series funded by a generous grant from Oaklandish to Oakland Local.

Read a related story here: Three great reasons to explore 40th Street ASAP

See more stories about this area here.

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About The Author

Laura McCamy, is a freelance writer, editor and researcher, and a contributing production editor at Oakland Local. Her work also appears in Momentum Magazine and the Intuit Small Business Blog. Follow Laura on twitter @lmcwords

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