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A hive of hyper-local commerce is remaking an unlikely corner in Oakland, 140 square feet at a time.

SLIDESHOW

Catherine Macken at MacArthur Annex.

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The Hanged Man Co. is a floral wonderland inside a 126-square-foot shipping container, part of the new MacArthur Annex.

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Vinyl reigns at Contact Records.

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Stace Fulwiler making sandals.

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Matthew Drewry Baker of the Hanged Man Co. creates his arrangements with mostly foraged florals.

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Fulwiler and her business partner, jeweler Amy Morrell.

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Perusing the wax stacks at Contact Records.

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All of the clothing at La Loba is handmade by Gina di Girolamo in her Oakland home studio.

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Owner Alissa Anderson decided MacArthur Annex was an ideal place to open up a second location of her beloved Inner Richmond shop, Foggy Notion.

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A Moroccan lamp sets the mood at the Hanged Man Co.

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Fellow tenants and collaborators (clockwise from left) Gina di Girolamo, Catherine Macken, and Matthew Drewry Baker with friend Peter Van der Pas.

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Bundled palo santo sticks at Foggy Notion.

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Architect Matt Baran has a playful perspective on the three-story stack of 33 steel shipping containers he just erected in Oakland’s Longfellow neighborhood. “It’s sort of like one of those pinpoint impression toys, where you push your hand against it and all these little pins adapt and take on the shape,” explains Baran, principal of Baran Studio Architecture.

But in this case, instead of pins, it’s the containers that conform to the site, and they house an eclectic collection of micro-businesses, from a sandal maker to a record shop to a florist-cum-tarot card reader. The project, dubbed MacArthur Annex, soft-opened in late November and offers an injection of activity to a long-stagnant corner just steps from the MacArthur BART station. And for a group of lucky small-business owners, it offers a shockingly affordable place to call their own.

With monthly rents for each of the container units, which average 140 square feet, starting as low as $850, the development has attracted a number of creative startups—and none of the tech variety. The corner’s first tenant was Catherine Macken, the owner of Oakland’s Subrosa Coffee, who took the lead in trying to surround herself with fellow tenants who would bring energy, culture, and community to the intersection. She called up friends and former coworkers who she knew were hustling to bring passion projects to life, such as Beth Naumann of Hellbent jewelry, who creates her dramatic gold pieces in her Emeryville studio, and Matthew Drewry Baker, a former Subrosa employee with a budding floral business.

“I knew this was an amazing opportunity, so it wasn’t too hard to twist my arm,” says Baker, who had been dreaming about having his own shop but thought he would have to wait until he was more established. The combination of affordable rent and a move-in-ready space with a built-in community seemed almost too good to be true. “I feel like this development goes against the trend of building just another block of condos. This actually gives back to the community and has become a viable space for working artists,” says Baker, who has transformed his little container into the Hanged Man Co., a moody, bucolic retreat complete with a table for tarot card readings (his other passion).

Baker and his neighbors to the left, jeweler Amy Morrell and her business partner, Stace Fulwiler, who has set up a diminutive sandal-making studio, inhabit ground-floor containers that open onto a central courtyard on one end and a beer garden, Arthur Mac’s Tap & Snack, slated for completion this month, on the other. Both the restaurant and a new Subrosa Coffee, which opens in March, are housed in revamped buildings along MLK Way and are also technically part of the annex. “I’m so excited about serving this neighborhood,” says Macken, whose first Subrosa location is a mere five blocks away, yet geographically disconnected because of the 24 freeway and the BART station.

Like so many Oakland neighborhoods, Longfellow has seen a demographic shift over the last five years, which has sometimes caused tension between newer residents and old. Prior to the annex’s opening, Longfellow’s commercial center consisted of a mini-market, a liquor store, and a coin-op laundry at 45th and Market Streets—an intersection seen either as an ad hoc gathering spot or as a local nuisance, depending on whom you ask. Either way, the businesses being ushered in by the annex represent a sea change for the neighborhood.

Along the annex’s 40th Street corridor, three full-time retail businesses have moved in: Foggy Notion, Contact Records, and La Loba, which is made up of jeweler Naumann and fashion designer Gina di Girolamo, who makes all her pieces in her Oakland home studio. “The sense of camaraderie here is so unique,” says Naumann. To that end, the group at MacArthur Annex has initiated Second Sundays, a monthly party when everyone opens their doors and food, drinks, and music fill the courtyard. Hannah Lew and Andrew Kerwin of Contact Records plan to bring in local bands, while some of the other tenants will call on their food-truck connections or artist friends for pop-ups. “We are all so rich in talented friends and neighbors, and these events are a chance to showcase that,” says Baker, who is already thinking about how to help the next generation of creative entrepreneurs rise up. “Everyone here has paid their dues and done dozens of different jobs while trying to make it work, so it’s so nice to finally have our own places where we showcase others and give them the chance.”

644 40th St. (at Martin Luther King Jr. Way), Oakland


Originally published in the February issue of
San Francisco

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