|By JR Valrey
Where some people see tragedy, others see opportunity, and the owner of Complex music venue in downtown Oakland, Oscar Edwards, has his eyes on creating a pandemic – proof business, next door to his popular music venue. Opening on Saturday, March 6, 2020, 14th Street Market, off of Broadway, will offer nutrition to the “Old Oakland” downtown community, which has always lived in a food desert; plagued with liquor stores, dispensaries, and fast food take-outs.
At a time when reportedly 49% of the local businesses that operated pre-Covid, have permanently shut their doors, Oscar Edwards is fearlessly embarking on a new project, that can drastically change the landscape and grocery buying habits of a neighborhood.
Right after the George Floyd-Breonna Taylor police murders and subsequent rebellions nationwide, white Congress people were taking photos in Kente Cloth, the NBA had Black Lives Matter painted all around the Covid bubble that they were playing in, and corporations were releasing commercials with the slogan, the United States acted as if it were publicly coming to grips with its viscerally racist, and anti-Black history. But as time has moved on, the mass support seems like it was a national public relations stunt. Now that local headlines are dominated with promoting the vaccine, particularly to Black people, those of us that are outright refusing the rushed vaccine or are hesitant, are actively engaged in building up our immune systems the natural way; with fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs. So the 14th Street Market could not have come at a better time. We just have to make sure to loyally support Oscar Edwards, one of only two Black grocery store owners in the Town, in his endeavor to offer nutritious food for downtown Oakland. Listen to this trailblazer in his own words.
JR Valrey: What inspired you to create a Black owned grocery store?
Oscar Edwards: My inspiration to create a Black-owned grocery store was the quality of business for Black entrepreneurs and to help grow the African American business community downtown and also to foster jobs in the community and create opportunities for local vendors and black-owned businesses to have product placement. There is no Black-owned grocery store located downtown Oakland. I felt there was a need in my area to create a Black-owned grocery store after the neighborhood local markets closed. I want to fight against food equality in minority neighborhoods and have a market reachable to everyone.
JR Valrey: What is significant about the location? Is the area a former food desert?
Oscar Edwards: The significance of the market’s location, is a deep question to understand the location. You have to look at all the factors of the area. To start, we are located in historic downtown Oakland, right across the street from City Hall and the 14th st BART station. Two, we are located in the main hub for the Black Art Music and Business District, (BAMBD aka ABBAO). Third, you have to look at the rich history of the street itself. Fourteenth Street is home to some of the community’s most prominent and staple Black businesses, such as Geoffrey’s, The Malonga Arts Center, and The African American History Museum. The last thing that makes it great is that it’s the Town. It’s downtown, Oakland. It’s the center of everything happening in the city. Is this area a former food desert? I believe that the area has been a food desert, within recent years, with all this new development, the economy, Covid, and social unrest. A lot of the main chain retailers left downtown, leaving us with few options and resources, in the center or the heart of the city. The market is an answer to a problem, which is a rapidly growing downtown. It is the start of answering the problem. We are here, if residents and businesses need something quick, and can’t drive or can’t make it to a major grocery store, 10 or more blocks away.
JR Valrey: How difficult will it be for you to run Complex, which is a premiere music venue in downtown Oakland, and also the 14th Street Market? Please explain how you will make it work?
Oscar Edwards: Well, I don’t feel it will be too difficult. First, they are located next to each other. Secondly, they do operate differently. And last, I’ve built a team around me to help with both businesses. The market is more of a daytime business, and Complex is more focused on the evenings. Right now the future of music events is uncertain. But food and health are essential. So for right now, I will take everything, day by day.
JR Valrey: Since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, how have you seen downtown Oakland change?
Oscar Edwards: Since the pandemic, I have seen Oakland change dramatically. It is a night and day difference. There is no more foot traffic. It has become destination-based. Everything is boarded up. Homelessness and theft have increased. There are no workers at the offices, no children at the schools. Retail has become very hard, and events are nearly impossible to have. So Oakland has definitely changed.
JR Valrey: What is the importance of nutrition to a healthy thinking mind?
Oscar Edwards: Nutrition is very important in a healthy mind. A healthy mind comes to form a healthy body, a healthy body comes from what you consume. Now 14TH St. Market insists on being a health food store. My goal is to serve everyone. So the approach is to have the things you usually eat, but have some alternatives that are healthier, to show you can have your favorite snack but also try a healthier version, or you can add some fruit with that snack. A lot of times when people see a market that is focused on all healthy eating, they get intimated and don’t go to the store because they feel excluded, but when people see things they know and then we add some healthier options, they start to make changes and try new stuff for the first time.
JR Valrey: Now that we are in the post-George Floyd Breonna Taylor rally era, where corporations, sports teams, and elected officials have been spouting “Black Lives Matter”, how has it been in creating the Fourteenth Street Market? Has there been a lot of assistance or do you think that a lot of the support previously mentioned was for public relations purposes, locally?
Oscar Edwards: I think right now everyone is aware and conscious about the Black Lives Matter movement and Black businesses in general. At this time it’s important that we support our own. I didn’t receive any assistance from corporations or sports teams or elected officials. I am open to receiving support from anyone who offers, and I hope supporting Black businesses it’s not just a one-time thing, but an everyday reality.