This is an excerpt from reporter Scott Johnson's blog, which focuses on the effects of violence and trauma on the community.
There was a time when "Antique Row" was a destination in Oakland. Old-timers such as Thelma Isler and her son Andre remember it well. The tree-lined block starting at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue was home to several antique shops that sold beautiful furniture, glassware and cutlery. The shops stretched around the corner, too, spilling onto Bancroft Avenue. The neighborhood had a down-home, pleasant feel. The Egyptian Theater stood on one corner. There was a coffee shop, a bakery, a couple of good restaurants, a drugstore. "It was a real nice vibe here," Andre told me recently, when I stopped by for a visit.
But in the 1980s, many people started moving away. Shops closed down. Around 1987, 83-year-old Thelma remembered, the last antique shop closed down when a loyal customer's car was burgled.
"That's when things started to change," Andre said. "The antique shops kind of held this place together. We had our own little community and it was booming, right here, but that's when it started getting worse."
Today, Antique Row retains the vestiges of the old days. The trees are still there, and a corner cafe called The Coffee Shop is the center of community life -- a place where the patrons call the staff by their first name, and the owners know what their customers like.
But like so many other East Oakland neighborhoods, this once booming block is straddling a fine line between survival and destruction. The problems are many, but chief among them is crime.
And the corner convenience store that Andre's family has been running for nearly 40 years sits right at the center of this dynamic. Andre and his mother watched with dismay as the place they have called home their whole lives has succumbed to decay. The people who live nearby are good people, they told me, but too many have left in recent years. Their small business faces stiff competition from wholesale outlets like Costco and Smart&Final. As other businesses packed up and left -- the theater, the bakery, Mr. G's restaurant -- there is less incentive for local residents to stop by and give Andre their business. It's a vicious cycle, and one that Andre and his mother are unsure how to handle.
"It's been sad to see it go downhill like this," Andre said. "You think it's coming back and then it doesn't. We're losing good people, some of them are just giving up, they're fed up with the crime, and some people have just lost hope with what's happening in the community."
The crime has gotten particularly bad in recent years. While Isler's Liquors has only been robbed once, Andre estimates that shoplifters and petty criminals lift items off his shelves on average twice a week. They often do so brazenly, without any fear of being caught. Not long ago, three of Andre's neighbors got jacked at 6:45 in the morning while they were waiting for a bus. About five months ago, some kids robbed an old man who was walking home, took his money and left the wallet in the street across the street from Isler's.
"When that happens people get freaked out," Andre said. "That's another customer I lose."
Three weeks ago, Andre was manning the register when four young kids walked in. They couldn't have been older than 13 or 14, he told me. One of them took a bag of chips, put it in his jacket and walked out. Andre confronted him but the kid just kept walking.
"They'll just do it right in front of you," he told me. "That's something we never used to see."
Oakland Police have said they want to change the policing tactics for this particular stretch of the city -- the 27X beat. Residents say they're hopeful that the police can maintain a more constant presence in the streets, walking instead of driving, getting to know local residents, keeping places like Andre's safe for loyal customers.
About six months ago, a cashier at Isler's watched as burglars broke into a house across the street in the middle of the afternoon. They busted down the door as a girl waited in a getaway car outside. In that case, the police eventually came, arrested the girl and then caught the robbers.
But three weeks ago, robbers showed up in a nearby driveway in the middle of the night, hoisted a white SUV up on a carjack and lifted all four tires off the car without anyone being the wiser.
"They're so bold," Andre said. "This is the kind of stuff that's hurting the community most."
Not long after that, a guy walked out of a nearby bar called El Rey about 11 p.m., laid down in the street, presumably drunk. A sideshow was going on at the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. One of the cars sped down the street and hit the guy, killing him. The driver was never caught. The dead man's family have been coming into Isler's saying, "What happened? Can you help us? We haven't heard anything."
Andre thinks Antique Row could be great again. The people who live here are solid, hardworking people who have a lot to contribute, he says. The city of Oakland needs to invest money, time and resources here the way they have elsewhere. There are plans in the works, he says, but he doesn't know when they will bear fruit. He thinks fixing even just one block could do wonders for the surrounding community.
"I think when you bring back businesses it brings back jobs to the neighborhood, and that's what we need," he said. "I've seen customers who are really nasty, and then they get a job and, you know what? They change!"
Contact Scott Johnson at 510-208-6429 or email@example.com.