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New Company Seeks to Keep Oakland Shop Owners Alive

Updated: Oct 27, 2020 09:47
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Every now and again a company comes along that actually looks like it will do good in our immediate communities. It’s a company that simply wants to help locally owned shops, sell their wares online, and it’s called ‘Keep Oakland Alive‘.

With the pandemic on, our local shops are being decimated.  Even before that, Amazon has been busily sucking money out of local economies at a record clip. If you thought Walmart and Home Depot were mom-and-pop killers, Amazon is a mom-and-pop dirty bomb.  It is a machine designed to eat small businesses, and the pandemic has only emboldened it.

Keep Oakland Alive is a small online store that allows you to shop local, and safely at shops like Oaklandish, FLAX, and Oaktown Spice Shop.  Bellow is what one of their founders, Brett Rounsaville, wrote about Keep Oakland Alive, and if you want to read interviews with the Oakland shop owners involved, check them out here.

By Brett Rounsaville

The first week of lockdown, mid-March here in Oakland, it occurred to me that I should front load some birthday presents for my three-year-old if we were all going to be trapped in the house together for a while anyway. (It helps that she can’t tell March from June.) So I walked down to our neighborhood toy store to grab a LEGO kit and some coloring books…only to find a closed sign.
No big deal. I popped home, ordered them online from Amazon, and had it all at the door in two days — and then immediately felt like the biggest ass on the planet.

Food delivery seemed like a band-aid for restaurants, but every time I set foot outside I saw retail shops in full panic-mode. No one knew how long this lockdown would last, no one knew when they could make sales again, no one knew if they could even stay in business. This was a big problem. The neighborhood shops I loved were suffering, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the problem wasn’t going away. Even if we cured COVID, the shops still had to survive Amazon, and that vaccine was very unlikely.

But…what if there were a different kind of online store? One where I could put a toothbrush, a new sweatshirt, and some toys, all in the same shopping cart and have it all delivered right to my door in a couple days, but I KNEW that every item was coming from a shop in my own community and that 100% of the money was staying in my local economy. That site would be my first stop ten times out of ten. I would never even think to visit Amazon first.
I was an unemployed dad, slash full-time parent, but I had some free moments at night to start emailing every single retail shop within a mile and a half of my house. Emails led to phone calls and one hundred twenty shops later I had a pretty good feel for the problems retailers were facing and a list of folks who might be interested in joining together for a test-version of the site I was envisioning.

The big unknown was that I still didn’t know how I would be able to pull that off, or, more importantly, how I was going to convince my wife that this was a good use of my time (and by now I was running out of excuses for why I wasn’t going to bed until 2am).
However, another by-product of this journey was that I started to meet some like-minded folks online. Others who were similarly concerned about their neighborhoods, or small retails businesses in general. After all, this wasn’t just an Oakland problem. This was a half of the US economy problem.
One new friend was April Underwood. You may know her from her work at Twitter, Slack and #ANGELS, amongst other impressive things. The short version is that we started sharing information in early May, as we separately worked on our own things that didn’t necessarily connect but were nonetheless both firmly rooted in the “how do we help small business retail thrive to keep communities vibrant” space.

It wasn’t long after that April pulled the trigger on creating a new company, and when she asked me to be part of her team and bring my ideas for Oakland to life it was a no-brainer. I joined the newly formed Local Laboratory Corp and we put our foot on the gas!
NOW I had the resources and the backing to go build something that the shop owners could be proud of being involved with, something that every resident of Oakland could use to help give our small businesses a fighting chance. So let’s cut to the chase. Here it is!


Keep Oakland Alive is a central online store for some of your favorite shops in Oakland. We’re launching this pilot with 17 shops and more than 20,000 items from five neighborhoods in Oakland. Every shop is run by a dedicated, friendly and knowledgeable shop owner and you can read each of their stories right here. These folks are the heroes and you owe it to yourself to check out who it is you’re supporting by ordering on Keep Oakland Alive.
So whether it’s an environmentally friendly toothbrush from Mudlab, a new sweatshirt from Oaklandish, or a Pirate Ship Kit from FLAX, you can put everything you want into one easy shopping cart, pay for it all at the same time and rest assured that the money is going to shops in your own community, not some compound in Seattle.

Then we make the rounds and deliver your whole order straight to your door in one nice, neat little package. (We’re only doing local delivery and only serving Oakland zip codes for now, so Berkeley, you’ll have to settle for your own shops a bit longer.)
Keep Oakland Alive is our first pilot at Local Laboratory, in service of our mission to empower local businesses and the people who love them. We’re just getting started and looking to expand beyond our first few neighborhoods, so if you have a beloved shop you’d like us to reach out to, or if you’re a shop owner who would like to get involved, please reach out to!

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