Oakland business owners hold an open house


Christmas came to Oakland early! It's all part of a city-wide push to get shoppers and residents out of the malls and into neighborhood stores. Oakland's Holiday Open House is just one of several initiatives to get consumers to spend locally.

"I think it's great because anything that will bring business into any store is a fantastic thing to do," said Oakland resident Connie Rueda.

Oakland storeowners are struggling. According to one merchants association, on average, business is down 20 percent. The city recently launched OaklandGrown.org, which highlights local businesses and goods. Last month, Fruitvale merchants extended their store hours for one day to try to boost sales.

This is the first city-wide coordinated effort of its kind. Organizers started planning this event the day after Thanksgiving and it involves 10 to 12 of the city's business districts.

"They're all scared, everyone's scared, and they don't know if we've hit the bottom and we're coming out of it or not," said Pamela Drake, the organizer.

Business at the Newfangles for Tall Fashions boutique is down 40 percent.

"Because of tonight, we're having a 20 percent off sale,"

Open house participants are encouraged to offer shoppers deals and stay open until 8 p.m. Most independent stores in Oakland close at 6.

"I think it will help in the sense that people who didn't know we were here will come down," said Alice Preston from the Newfangles for Tall Fashions store.

Shoppers were also lured by the music, carriage rides, and face painting. Organizers are trying to build a community feel -- something that has been lacking in parts of Oakland.

"It's a step in the right direction and it'll be helpful, anything that brings people out and know their neighborhood and feel safer in their environment," said Susan Stewart, from Oakland.

"It shouldn't have taken a recession," said John Stewart, from Oakland.

The city's merchant associations hope to have more open houses throughout the year.

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