Oakland Indies Need Our Help!

by | Jul 16, 2019

It’s Time to Help our Oakland Indies

We’re distraught about the recent closings of some epic and “so Oakland” small businesses. And given the current environment, more are guaranteed to follow. We feel helpless and want to do something. It’s time to go to battle for our local indies. And it’s time to celebrate their importance. It’s an understatement to say that Oakland indies need our help.

Oakland’s Future is in the Balance

Right now, they’re under siege and an unknown number are barely hanging on. It’s not surprising given that they have so many challenges. First, there is the ecommerce problem–that’s on us. But, they also have to deal with out-of-control rents, navigate through complex city laws, exhaustively scrape up the budget and time for marketing, and work through obstacles like construction that blocks their storefronts, to name only a few. And, it certainly doesn’t help that The Town is being raided by big businesses that don’t care about our city — our home. These latter issues can be and need to be addressed by the City of Oakland, and fast.

Everything is to lose if we don’t act. We’ve seen what happens as many cities before us have died a Corporate America death. We’re at risk of becoming a city-burb devoid of a soul. Corporations, national coffee chops, retail chains and restaurants, and big box retailers will overtake our neighborhoods. That’s not our dream for Oakland. It’s certainly not why we all choose to live here.  

It’s up to us to ensure that Oakland’s future is rooted in a healthy, dynamic indie scene. But, there’s a massive problem we need to solve: It seems that our city politicians think nothing can be done. 

On the contrary, much can be accomplished. There are many examples of cities that have taken a pro-small business stance and transformed their communities. The common denominator is that local governments took the initiative. So, we must do the most difficult work to compel our leaders to be proactive and rethink their approach to small business. 

The case for helping our indies

Oakland indies are always there for us

Our indies have been by our side during many critical times. Remember the Oakland Teachers strike? Our indies shouted their support, gave monetary and food donations, and volunteered their time, all in support of the OUSD teachers. Their hearts were in it every protest step of the way.

And consider this not-so-comprehensive list. They also: stand against all hate; celebrate important events with us like Pride; cheer our kids on at school; are mentors of young entrepreneurs; support young makers, artists, craftspeople, and chefs; lead the #oaklandmade movement; lend their helping hands to our less fortunate neighbors; and donate to our local causes. They’re activists pursuing solutions to uplift our city. In their spaces, they host events, classes, and workshops to help us broaden our knowledge, discover new talents, or hone our skills. These experiences delight and entertain us. 

Indies are a powerful economic engine and are better for the environment

Let’s not forget the substantial economic and environmental benefits either. In an effort to prevent this from becoming a burdensomely long blog, here are three compelling facts about indie economic muscle. First, indies are extremely efficient and produce 70% more economic activity per square foot than big box retailers. Secondly, according to the American Independent Business Alliance, approximately $45 of every $100 that is spent at an indie remains circulating in the local economy. Compare that to about $14 for national retailers and even less than that for big box retailers. And, we shudder to think what remains in the local economy of a $100 spend on ecommerce sites. Lastly, local indies generally pay better wages and create more jobs.

What does this all lead to? A burgeoning indie economy generates more revenue for our city to properly fund our schools, crime and safety, infrastructure, homelessness, and other valuable community programs and services. It also means lower taxes for us because the city has more sources of revenue and does not need to burden us. So many positive outcomes.

Many people consider the reduced impact on the environment as being of the utmost importance. Here too, the plusses are far-reaching. An indie economy is an environmental economy. For example: Many local indies conduct business with a sustainable mindset; many of the products that they sell are sourced locally; and, big box stores and shopping malls require much more infrastructure development and management. There’s so much more. The Institute for Local Self Reliance is a great resource.

There are so many upsides to shopping local. It’s perhaps the most important action we can take to ensure that we live in prosperous, diverse, and vital communities. Shopping local enhances our own lives and the lives of those around us. 

After all, they are our neighbors and advocates, they power our local economy, and they take care to preserve our environment.So, with all our Oakland love and with all our Oakland fighting spirit, we must step up and repay them for their hard work and dedication to Oaktown.

How do we help them?

Option 1: The crazy idea (author’s pick)

If it were up to us, we would start an “Oakland Indies First” movement. As such, we envision a massive #marchforoaklandindies to Oakland City Hall. What an impactful way to send a message to our local politicians that they must address the plight of our indies (full disclosure: We know NOTHING about organizing protests). Who would this be for? Everyone who loves and appreciates these plucky proprietors and understands the importance of the indie spirit to Oakland. Really, it’s for everyone who cares about Oakland. 

Option 2: The less crazy idea

A far less complicated idea is an email writing campaign. This would require each of us to write our councilmembers to demand that Oakland City Council change course to focus on independent business development. We need to urge our local leaders to prioritize small business needs over Corporate America interests in Oakland. To that end, we have added the email contact information for all the councilmembers below. 

Option 3: The easiest idea to execute is a must

But, we can’t just rely on city government to make policy changes. Of course, we have to change our habits too. We must stop blindly handing our hard-earned money to behemoth corporations and billionaire money-hoarders that do not substantially contribute to our city. Can we all abandon the “bigger is better” false narrative now? No doubt, we need to live, love, and act local just a little more often. 

However we do it, we need the City of Oakland to hear our collective voice and compel them to save our beloved Oakland indies–and our city. In truth, it’s a fight for all of us. 

Help us with the “Oakland Indies First” Movement

We want to have a real conversation on this critical issue.

What is your level of interest in advancing this agenda?

Are you in for Option 1, Option 2, Option 3 or even Option 4) None of the above or Option 5) All of the above.

Do you have some ideas percolating of your own?

Yes, we do want to hear your ideas. Please share them!

For those who want to do Option 1!

We are in! Let’s work together to make it happen!

Where can we have this discussion?

Please comment here or on Instagram or Facebook. As we get feedback, we will figure out next steps.

Mayor of Oakland

Libby Schaaf Mayor

City Of Oakland Councilmembers

Rebecca Kaplan Councilmember-at-large

Dan Kalb District 1

Nikki Fortunado Bas District 2

Lynette Gibson McElhaney District 3

Sheng Thao District 4

Noel Gallo District 5

Loren Taylor District 6

Larry Reid District 7

Before you go

Continue the dialogue with us on Facebook and Instagram.

If you enjoyed this article, please check out our other blogs here.

Great local resources to learn more about the importance and benefits of local, peruse AMIBA and ILSR.


  1. Amy Hillyard

    YES! Thank you for articulating the plight of local businesses. Your idea about a letter writing campaign is a great one.
    Can we create a template letter and send it out to our networks?
    Oakland Indie Alliance can send it out to our customers too?
    organize us! We need it!

    Amy Hillyard (Farley’s East and OIA)

    • Sarah Stefaniuk

      Amy! That is a great idea! A fantastic idea. Yes, we can create a template. We’ll do it. It’s probably just a matter of us finding one of our old letters and modifying it slightly. DM us on IG and tell us where you would like it sent. Still, we do want a revolution and to #marchforoaklandindies. We see thousands of Oaklanders at City Hall telling our local politicians to #keepitoakland!

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