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'Popuphood' aims to bring new business to Old Oakland

A small business incubator seeks to revitalize a neighborhood in Oakland through a handful of pop-up stores that have no plans to close.

Kai Ryssdal: You've heard of popup stores, right? Companies setting up storefronts that might only be around for a week or a day or even just a couple of hours. It's a marketing gimmick, a not-so-sublte attempt to gin up consumer excitement over one thing or another.

In Oakland, Calif., they've taken it to the next level. A handful of stores have popped up all at the same time -- with no plans to close. It's called a popup hood. And Andrew Stelzer reports, it may be coming soon to a hood near you.


Andrew Stelzer: Crown Nine: Jewelers and Makers has only been open for a few months. It's a small shop, in a hidden alleyway in downtown Oakland. But on a recent Friday night, there's steady foot traffic passing through.

Worker: These are actually all on cardboard.

Laura Hill, who came from neighboring Berkeley for dinner, just bought two small prints by a local artist. She had no plans to shop here until about 10 minutes ago.

Hill: We have never been to this shop. In fact, we just noticed there were a lot of new shops along this road, and so that was a new thing for us. We typically go to the uptown area.

The reason Hill saw a bunch of new shops was no accident. In late November, five stores all simultaneously opened on the same block to create what's being called a "popuphood." The landlords agreed to give all five businesses free rent for six months, in order to fill their empty storefronts.

Martin Ward: It wasn't a big economic risk. And the payoff made it worthwhile.

Martin Ward is asset manager for PSA Old Oakland Associates, the property owner for all five participating stores.

Ward: I was prepared to take that chance because we felt like it was going to take more than one retailer. It was a critical mass was I think the key component here, and really high-quality retailers.

An art gallery. A bike shop. A jewelry store. A vintage clothing boutique, and a place to buy novelties and crafts. These businesses were hand-picked for the project, which so far has been a boon for the neighborhood.

Alphonso Dominguez: The grand opening of popuphood was one of my best days ever in my restaurant.

Alphonso Dominguez's restaurant is just around the corner from the popuphood. Dominguez has had two other businesses fail, right on the same block. But he refused to give up on this undervalued corner of his native city.

Dominguez: I mean it's gorgeous, look at it -- these buildings are worth gold. From the late 1800s, architecture you could never do again.

100-year-old Victorians. Tree-lined streets. Public transit connecting to the whole San Francisco Bay Area. What's called the "Old Oakland" neighborhood has a lot going for it. But for some reason, most of the retail space on this block had been sitting vacant for years.

Dominguez: We have the restaurants and we have the bars. The missing experience was just walking around and shopping, window shopping.

So Dominguez, along with a business partner, pitched the popuphood idea to the city of Oakland. The city contributed $30,000 to the project for renovations and also donated advertising space on billboards and bus shelters.

Carrie Johnson: The hardest part when you're opening a new business is letting people know that you're here.

Carrie Johnson is co-owner of Marion & Rose's Workshop, one of the stores in the popuphood. Her clothing and accessories shop even turned a profit in January and February, typically two of the slowest months for retail.

Johnson: The amount of effort that we would have individually put into alone -- it would have taken us probably close to 7-10 years to get to this point that we're at already with the amount of visibility that we have.

Johnson's six months' free rent runs out on May 1st, but she plans to sign a long-term lease. It looks like most of the stores will become permanent. Now Chicago, Detroit, and other cities have contacted Oakland, asking how they might organize a popuphood of their own.

In Oakland, Calif., I'm Andrew Stelzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Andrew Stelzer is an award-winning radio producer and news reporter, currently working as a producer at the National Radio Project in Oakland, Calif.

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