“Chock Full of Activity”
Please don’t confuse the district in Oakland called Piedmont Avenue with the city of Piedmont. These are two separate places, and the merchants of the bustling, active Piedmont Avenue business district are quick to correct those who don’t know the difference.
Piedmont Avenue in Oakland runs from West MacArthur Boulevard up to Mountain View Cemetery, just past Pleasant Valley Avenue. The city claims that the avenue is eight blocks long, but there are many shorter ones, chock-a-block full of thriving and independent shops, restaurants and services.
According to Tim Haggerty, owner of L’Amyx Tea Bar (www.lamyx.com) and an active member of the Piedmont Avenue Merchants Association, Piedmont Avenue is the most concentrated business district in Oakland. The association, Haggerty notes, is one of the oldest professional organizations in California, having gained non-profit status in 1938, after operating for many years before that. The group is “very tight,” working together to promote the advantages of shopping and operating in the district.
“Piedmont Avenue offers an excellent business opportunity,” Haggerty says. “It has a great mix of retail, restaurants and service businesses. It feels like our own small town within the city of Oakland.”
Haggerty notes that there are few chain stores along the avenue, providing independent store and business owners, as well as home-based professional service operators, with an opportunity to succeed. It also offers neighbors and visitors one-stop shopping with a plentiful variety of merchandise, art and fabulous food and drink.
“It’s a great little avenue because it’s a good size,” he adds. “It’s manageable in a day—just walking up and down.”
In addition to L’Amyx, which offers tea and some food and pastries, Piedmont Avenue is home to a few long-established eateries, including the well-known ice cream stalwart Fentons Creamery & Restaurant, coffee bar Gaylord’s Caffe Espresso, Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers and Little Shin Shin for Chinese food. Those longing for some stress relief can turn to Piedmont Yoga Studio or to Piedmont Springs, a day spa with outdoor hot-tubs, cedar-lined saunas and a variety of high-quality therapeutic massage and skin-care services. Piedmont Cinema is the neighborhood movie house, showing independent and foreign films.
The merchants of Piedmont Avenue work in concert with the Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Improvement League, or PANIL. Founded in 1974, PANIL is an association of Oaklanders striving to keep its residents informed about neighborhood life and matters related to city government and city services.
The PANIL neighborhood is the 40 square blocks bound by Broadway, MacArthur, Oakland Avenue and the city of Piedmont. Several communities with their own style and individuality—small neighborhoods within Oakland, like Rockridge (northwest) and Temescal (west)—border the area.
Haggerty explains that PANIL and the merchants work together on many of the Piedmont Avenue events, including the latest, a Tulip & Art Festival that takes place throughout the entire month of April.
“The cemetery plants 30,000 tulip bulbs that bloom every spring,” he says. “We are telling people to come and spend a day or the weekend looking at the beautiful flowers and then walking down the avenue to eat or to see some of the many artists’ work on display.”
Ronile Lahtki, a resident of the neighborhood and a member of the PANIL steering committee, notes that many of the neighbors participate in preparing for the festival as well as the other events on the avenue throughout the year. Lahtki has resided here almost all her life, spending a little time away during her college years. She lives in the house her grandparents built in 1912.
“Piedmont Avenue has the best Halloween celebration in Oakland,” she says. PANIL helps blow up the thousands of balloons used for the holiday and assists merchants in closing down the street for an entire day, usually the Saturday closest to the actual holiday.
Piedmont Avenue was once the route for the Key Car Line, running trolleys up and down the street. The line ended at the 41st Street Station, where today there is one of two murals painted by local artist Rocky Baird (www.rockybaird.com). The second mural, recently finished, represents the Ohlone culture and is across the street at Gaylord’s Caffé.
Lahtki is proud of how the merchants and residents have worked together throughout the years.
“The residents need the avenue. If the avenue is vibrant and thriving, then we retain our housing prices and have a better neighborhood. At the same time, the merchants need the residents to shop the Avenue. It works out for everyone,” Lahtki says.
Mary Lee Shalvoy is a freelance writer based in Alameda whose work appears in Oakland Magazine.