Monday, June 26, 2017

Stop the Amazonification of Oakland

English: Photograph by: Andrei Metelkine Locat...
Photograph by: Andrei Metelkine Location: La Romana, Dominican Republic Category:La Romana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yes, that's a provocative headline, but it does make a point about efforts to dial back the Grand Lake Farmers Market by pushing out the sellers (and makers) of crafts, of non-food items. That is the stated intention of at least some of those who want to remove AIM (Agricultural Institute of Marin) as market manager.

One of the benefits of the market is generating sales tax revenue for Oakland based on the sale of non-food items. It is legitimate to worry about the sale of certain things at the market eroding the sales of certain neighborhood merchants, but years ago when my wife and I were on the committee that selected AIM in the first place, one of the points the group made was that the benefits of the market - more foot traffic on market day which results in more foot traffic, and more shopping, on other days as market goers experience the general attraction of the neighborhood  - far outweigh the fact there is some overlap between things sold at the market and things sold in the neighborhood.

AIM says it has data to support that position, and our conversations with neighborhood merchants suggest that benefit is generally true and that what we have at work at our current market is an illustration of the Utilitarian principle - the greatest good for the greatest number. It is certainly true that the fact the market is broad based helps achieve a kind of critical mass in which market goers are drawn by the market's rich variety. It's not just about farm produce, and that is part of the market's charm.

I recall walking through a city market in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic many years ago and how much I was dazzled and delighted by the profusion of vendors, of activities, of people. I am told that some who dislike the current market are in fact put off by the hustle and hurly-burly, that they prefer the kind of sedate shopping you get at Safeway if you go at off hours. But personally I love the energy of the market that comes from the mix of vendors and the mix of people drawn by those vendors.

Back to the clickbait headline. It was my wife's insight. She makes the entirely reasonable argument that supporting local retail in its battle with 'etail' is almost a duty. She is committed to buying in the neighborhood for many reasons, one of which is that when you go Amazon Prime, Oakland loses tax revenue. Bottom line is that a market that sells more than groceries has a ripple effect that ends with money in Oakland's coffers.

Now for an anecdote. Last Saturday my wife fell into conversation with a market vendor, also a neighborhood resident, who makes things which she sells at the market. (My wife did not get permission to use her name, though this week she will ask.) This craftsperson told my wife she has had heated conversations with one of those who opposes AIM and, in particular, wants to boot the craft sellers out. She told my wife that this particular individual told her that her being tossed from Grand Lake Market would be no inconvenience, that all her other markets would provide income enough.

What other markets! she told my wife. Grand Lake is her only market and if she got forced out, how would she survive? The plural of anecdote **is** data - if you get enough of them.

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