Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sad walk down the avenue

I just got back from meeting an editor for lunch on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. For those not in the know, Piedmont Ave stretches from Macarthur Blvd up towards Pleasant Valley Road, and is a great strolling street: coffee shops like Peets and Gaylords, restaurants like Cesar, Dopo and the new Adesso, and shops, shops, all kinds of shops.

At least that used to be the case...for almost six years my kids took gymnastics at a studio on Piedmont. Every Saturday morning - must have been nearly 250 of them over the years - I was on Piedmont Ave drinking a coffee and browsing the stores while they leapt and tumbled. I was on a first name basis with Nathan of Nathan's, Annette at Pimlico Place, Cecelia at the sewing store, and on a "hey, how are you?" basis with just about every other merchant.

But six months ago the studio relocated - rent was too high - and my weekly trips stopped. So I set off for lunch a bit earlier today hoping to spend a couple of minutes poking around - at a rate of $0.03 per minute, thanks to Oakland's recently raised meter rates (which are also being enforced like never before.)

It was not the happy homecoming I'd anticipated.

Piedmont Stationery: gone. The little lingerie store next door to it: empty. The lighting store: bupkes. I stopped when I got as far as Cesars for fear that Nathan's and Tedddy's Party Supply would be next, there's only so much I can take in a day. All these small businesses getting the brunt of a slow economy - just like I predicted in an essay last fall for the Chron.

What's a person to do? I stopped by Pimlico and drooled over some gorgeous, eye catching rings under $20, and bought a couple. Then I went to Phillipa Roberts and laid out some cash as well. Nothing much, not enough to keep a store afloat for more than about 6 minutes. But if you value these stores, if you want to be able to keep going back to them: spend what you're able in your local community. Or risk being hit by a tumbleweed next time you're on Piedmont Ave.

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