Once a month, thousands of people flock to the area around 23rd Street and Telegraph Avenue for Art Murmur and First Friday, crowding the sidewalks, art galleries, liquor stores, and bars. But come to this neighborhood any other time of the month and it’s nearly empty. Although there are a couple of bustling markets — Oasis Food Market and Koreana Plaza — the area has mostly been known for its crime, drug addicts and homeless population.
The folks at the Koreatown Northgate Community Benefit District (KONO) have been wrestling with this dilemma for years. But now, they may have an answer in the form of Popuphood, the small-business incubator that helped bring a handful of new retailers to Old Oakland by negotiating six months of free rent with landlords, with the goal of them signing long-term leases.
“We reached out to Popuphood because I had heard about their success in Old Oakland,” said Shari Godinez, KONO’s executive director. “We had a 43-percent vacancy rate over here for commercial vacancies. So I felt like it would be a perfect match for our district. … They were my spark of hope for bringing retail to this area.” Indeed, the biggest challenge is how to translate KONO’s one night of intense popularity into an everyday occurrence. Thus, Popuphood’s recommendations include things that would attract more people to hang out in the neighborhood, such as parklets and coffeehouses. Filley and Dominguez also view that approach as an alternative crime-fighting strategy (currently, the bulk of KONO’s money goes to security and cleaning services). Noting that the area is a major thoroughfare with heavy bike traffic, Filley and Dominguez have also reached out to the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, and are pondering bike lanes and cyclist shops.