Oakland Tribune Outtakes

Notes from Oakland, Berkeley and in between

Archive for February, 2009

Small flower shop wilting under Whole Foods takeover

By kbender

It seems there is a Wal-Mart-esque story brewing in Berkeley. But this time it’s not Wal-Mart that’s at fault for driving another mom and pop business out of town.

It’s Whole Foods, the 29-year-old natural food grocery that prides itself on socially responsible ingredients, buying directly from local farmers and growers and providing shoppers with everything from massages to hemp clothing to gelato stands.

After more than 50 years, Ashby Flowers, the flower and plant shop at the corner of Ashby and Telegraph avenues, will be forced to close at end of July because Whole Foods, the corporation that owns the shop’s building,  has declined to renew the shop’s lease, said flower shop spokeswoman Stacey Simon.

Started by a group of 19 people in Texas in 1980, Whole Foods has long prided itself on its “core values,” which are posted on its Web site.

Core values include selling the  highest quality natural and organic products available; satisfying and delighting our customers; supporting team members happiness and excellence; creating wealth through profits and growth; caring about our communities and our environment; and creating  ongoing win-win partnerships with our suppliers.

Call me crazy, but killing the livelihood of people who sank their life savings into a shop doesn’t sound like “caring about our communities.”

Owners Iraj Misaghi and Marcy Simon, who bought the shop in 1995, have since expanded the store’s customer base and developed business relationships with the area’s major businesses and institutions.

“We’ve worked hard to support our customers and be a good neighbor,” said Simon. “And I realize that times are tough right now. But to build their business on the backs of small local businesses seems to go against the core values that Whole Foods publicizes on its Web site.”

Simon said Whole Foods won’t tell them why they won’t renew the lease.

“But we’ve learned they plan to put a coffee shop in the space we occupy. So, they kill two birds with one stone:  they get rid of the competition and drive customers away from the three or four independently owned coffee shops that have been here for years.”

Simon said this is yet another example of Whole Foods talking out of both sides of its proverbial mouth.
“And it’s not the first time. There are lots of examples of its mercenary behavior. We all might expect this sort of thing from traditional big box stores like Wal-Mart, but Whole Foods has done a really good job of snowing the public,’’ she said.

Simon says many recent stories and blog entries show that Whole Foods is straying from its roots. Here are a few:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/28/dining/28whole.html (

But the flower shop owners won’t be fighting their battle alone. In a letter to Whole Foods Market Northern Region President David Lannon, Berkeley’s Halcyon Neighborhood Association decried the market’s decision to expand its operations by removing the flower shop that has stood outside the Berkeley store for more than 50 years.

“In addition to our support for renewal of the Ashby Flowers’ lease, we feel it’s important for the Whole Foods Market management team to understand that any application for a changed use at Ashby Flowers’ site is likely to meet with strong neighborhood opposition,” the letter states. “We were told that a café where customers can pick up a quick cup of coffee or a sandwich is the plan once Ashby Flowers is evicted. Please note that we believe that this change in use… would be detrimental to our neighborhood.”
The Halcyon Neighborhood Association covers the area including and immediately to the southwest of the Whole Foods. It casts a wide net. Flyers go to nearby 900 households, and an electronic newsletter reaches 400 households and another 150 households though a listserv in the Le Conte neighborhood, association officials said.

The letter also says that Ashby Flowers has been there to help neighbors celebrate and mourn the key milestones of our lives for several generations.

“In addition, we’re concerned that creating a café on the corner would have a negative impact on another locally owned business, Mokka Café, which is just a block to the south, as well as on local cafés to the north on Telegraph. While we appreciate the community-minded spirit that Whole Foods Market often embodies, it’s simply not appropriate for its physical plant to expand at the expense of valuable local businesses that contribute so much to our neighborhood.”

Posted on Thursday, February 26th, 2009
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Country Joe McDonald running open mic in Berkeley

By kbender

Country Joe McDonald who still lives in Berkeley, is running an open mic at the
Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Hall this Friday, Feb,. 27, organizers of the event said.

The event is at 7 p.m. and Country Joe will be back in town on March 27. 

Besides a steady touring schedule, Country Joe has been running the open mic for the last ten months.  “We need more spaces for people to play music. We’re going for the old-style coffee house atmosphere, where people can just relax and be themselves, and have a little fun,” he said in a news release.

The performer, who recorded 33 albums over a 40 year career, said he likes to hear new talent when he’s in town. This month’s event will feature bluesman Roger Brown, who runs his own blues jam on Sunday nights at Smokey Blues BBQ at 3415 Telegraph Ave. 

He usually plays with Billy and the Thrillers but he’ll be running solo for this performance.

The open mic is at 1924 Cedar Street at Bonita, two blocks below Shattuck in North Berkeley.  It is wheelchair accessible. Organizers are asking for a $5 to $10 donation for the open mic event. Performers may begin signing up at 5:30 p.m.

Posted on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
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Ozumo serves lunch

By awoodall

Ozumo just added lunch to the weekday menu. The timing is good because the East Bay Express just did a review of the chic Japanese restaurant and lounge.

Ozumo is located at 2251 Broadway, at Grand Avenue. The restaurant is open for dinner, Monday through Thursday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Lunch is served Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The bar opens at 4:00 p.m. Street parking and nearby off-street lots and garages are readily available and valet service is offered. Reservations are recommended and can be made through www.opentable.com or by calling (510) 286-9866. If you want to know a bunch more about it Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Saturday, February 21st, 2009
Under: Fun Stuff to do in Oakland, Night Owl | No Comments »
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L’Avventura rocks

By awoodall

Jeff from Fellini restaurant and coffee bar in Berkeley just released a new LP “Your Star was Shining” by his band L’Avventura (Italian of course!) It’s free  www.lavventuramusic.com   until April 30th (“Fine with us…” he says), or, if the recession hasn’t hit you too hard, you can purchase a copy at iTunes.com, emusic.com, amazon.com or cdbaby.com. To mark the CD release, the band is kicking off “The Living Room Sessions”, a series of 10 live shows, starting February 17th.   Each week, L’Avventura will be joined by a different musical guest, for an evening of “melodic retro/futurist pop music” (NME), in an intimate, atmospheric setting.  “The Living Room Sessions” offers FREE admission, early start times (running 7-9pm), easy parking, and absurdly hip vibes.  It’s an  all-ages venue too, so bring the juvenile delinquents… The location: 33 Revolutions, a cafe/wine-bar/vinyl record shop in El Cerrito (10086 San Pablo Ave.)
The dates are: Tuesday, February 24, 7-9 pm and… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, February 20th, 2009
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Be a burlesque queen or just look like one

By awoodall

Get your va va voom on with Dottie Lux at the School of Shimmy Classes. If you want to shake it on stage or for your honey or just give a gift that keeps on giving…reserve a spot email: redhotsburlesque@gmail.com with S.O.S. in the subject line. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, February 19th, 2009
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Blank Berkeley newspaper a sign of hard journalistic times

By kbender

The front of Berkeley Daily Planet newspaper is a big white space today except for a cartoon picture of man holding a blank newspaper and the caption “Without you, there’s no Planet.”

It’s eye-catching, and a little silly but there’s a serious reason behind today’s cover.

The Berkeley Daily Planet, like thousands of newspapers around the country, is in financial trouble and struggling to stay afloat, say Becky and Mike O’Malley, who have run the paper for nearly six years.

Advertising revenue is way down, and the O’Malleys are looking for a new way to support the paper, which last May scaled down the print edition from Tuesdays and Fridays to Thursdays. It’s also published online daily and the O’Malleys say that going online-only could be one solution.

Now they are asking their readers to cough up some cash so reporters can keep on covering the news.

The O’Malleys have launched the Planet Fund for Local Reporting to raise money to support the newspaper. They’re even exploring the idea making the fund a tax-exempt nonprofit. Want to tell them how you feel about this? There’s an online poll that asks readers if they would pay for the Berkeley Daily Planet, which like we’ve pointed out before is neither daily nor covers the planet.

Readers can donate to the fund either by mail or through the www.berkeleydailyplanet.com. We’ll be waiting to see what happens with this innovative yet risky business model.

The Planet isn’t the first news source to ask readers to pay directly for newsgathering. A Web site called Spot.Us was launched last year. Spot.Us is a nonprofit project of the Center for Media Change that asks people to donate money to get a certain story published. Freelance journalists are hired to write the stories once a set amount is raised.

In a story today, Becky O’Malley said that when they took over, they had “some hope that we would at least break even, but the reverse has happened.”

“Not that advertising revenues have entirely gone away,” said Michael O’Malley, the paper’s publisher. But advertising doesn’t cover the paper’s biggest expense, the salaries of the reporters who gather the news and the editors who shape the final product that appears each Thursday morning in news boxes and stores from Richmond to Alameda.”

The O’Malleys say they are trying to keep the paper afloat without cutting staff. More than 6,000 print journalists nationwide have lost their jobs over the past two years because of the economic downturn. The Bay Area News Group-East Bay, which runs the Oakland Tribune, the Contra Costa Times and nearly two dozen other daily and weekly newspapers in the Bay Area, has cut a substantial number of reporters, copy editors, editors and photographers over the last few years.

If the Berkeley Daily Planet closes, it wouldn’t be the first time. Once owned by publisher Arnold Lee, and Stanford MBA grads Dave Danforth and Ed Carse, it folded the first time in November 2002.

In today’s story, the O’Malleys say they haven’t set a deadline for a final decision on the newspaper’s fate. “But the costs have been high, and at some point, they say, they may have to devote the remainder of their resources to their children and grandchildren.”

I guess this means the Berkeley Daily Planet still won’t be daily or covering the planet.

Posted on Thursday, February 19th, 2009
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A play: Blood Types

By awoodall

Blood, race, reality: a dramatic reading of Blood Types – the story of two African American sisters who get to know one another and themselves – 4 p.m. Sunday at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, 1616 Franklin Street.

Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
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Visual Arts Town Hall Meeting

By awoodall

On Feb. 21: a forum moderated by Joseph Pesco to discuss ways the government can influence and support local arts — simple ways to create a sustainable visual arts community, according to the poster at 465 Washington St. where the meeting will take place from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
FMI: www.thepresentgroup.com. My suggestion is to cover Smart & Final’s windows that face Broadway. Instead of bleach, toilet paper and styrofoam plates (or the blank white sheets that used to reach midway up the giant glass panes) the windows could be covered with art.  
You’ll see the notice for the Town Hall Meeting if you walk by the 465 Washington St. storefront, next to Verse and FIVEten Studio. In the meantime, speaking of art… How’s My Dealing?

Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
Under: Fun Stuff to do in Oakland, Night Owl, Oakland nightlife | No Comments »
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Geisha looking close to open

By awoodall

The Geisha lounge on 14th Street in the little Korean enclave near Lake Merritt is looking lively, like it’s close to opening to the public. Right now there’s still renovating going on, though. BTW, did anyone catch Sidebar’s opening this weekend? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Posted on Monday, February 9th, 2009
Under: Fun Stuff to do in Oakland, Night Owl, Oakland nightlife | 2 Comments »
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Fast talker: Pecha Kucha

By awoodall

       “10 ARTISTS 20 SLIDES 20 SECONDS”
What: Cocktail Party
Host: EastSide Arts Alliance, Samurai Graphix, Hard Knock Radio
Start Time: Friday, February 13 at 8:00pm
End Time: Saturday, February 14 at 12:00pm
Where: EastSide Cultural Center

To see more details and RSVP, follow the link below:

Posted on Saturday, February 7th, 2009
Under: Fun Stuff to do in Oakland, Night Owl, Oakland nightlife | No Comments »
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