Nineteen Business Owners and Experts Discuss How to Sustain a Healthy East Bay Economy for All 

It's our annual Local Economy issue!

Page 3 of 8

What is an adult gallery?

Feelmore is, among many things, a commerce center for individuals that use sex work, prostitution, or escorting as a source of income to buy their supplies in order to provide a quality of life that the local economy isn't capable of providing at this time.

That's an awesome business model.

Luxury in Oakland has always been in "certain" areas. Our goal is to treat everyone with dignity and respect — validated and heard. Besides, people deserve to have their expectations exceeded.

How does your business contribute to Oakland culture in positive ways?

A young woman was walking down the street and was being aggressively followed. She ran into Feelmore because there was nothing else open. I insisted she wait for me to take her home after I closed. An open store makes an impact more than people understand.

If you were mayor of Oakland, what one thing would you do to improve the economy?

You really want me to answer this? Well, I would encourage local government to allow Feelmore to operate a strip club while holding a liquor license, and to stop giving preferential treatment such as "pay-to-play" for new industries. Oakland is the working man's town. Let us work, all of us!

A social hub for locals

Sal Bednarz

owner, Actual Cafe, a neighborhood restaurant in Oakland (6334 San Pablo Avenue, ActualCafe.com)

Why is your restaurant different?

We pride ourselves on local and responsible sourcing, partnerships with other local businesses, and neighborly values. We're a social hub for locals; we opened into a neighborhood that was long neglected and filled with vacant storefronts, and which is increasingly vibrant and unique. We've helped make our neighborhood more walkable and more lively.

How do you keep workers happy?

Early this year, we kicked off an internal assessment of the feasibility of selling our business to our workers and continuing the restaurant as a worker-owned cooperative. It's early days, but our crew is engaged, and so am I. We're working right now on changing our management model to distribute responsibilities across a larger group of people, which allows us to give more opportunities to supervisors and managers with less experience.

Describe how cost-of-living impacts your business.

When I moved to Oakland in 1991, I loved it because it was a place where creative people often put together several hustles to make a living. The people I met then showed me that I could do the same, and this was exciting. This culture is mostly gone here now — the next generation of creative hustlers have left for less-expensive alternatives (Asheville, Nashville, other 'villes), and the high cost of living here often requires putting financial concerns above others. This is impoverishing us culturally.

San Francisco has become really repugnant to me in these past couple decades. What was once a low-key haven for outsiders and an environment where weirdos thrived alongside its working class has been overtaken by a culture that increasingly only gives a crap about getting rich (or showing off the riches it's already got). Oakland is on this trajectory, and it's not clear we can stop the money machine from taking us all the way there. Certainly, we won't be able to influence our future if we don't speak up and try.

What is the biggest obstacle to achieving your restaurant's goals?

That the goal post is always shifting. Costs go up more quickly than revenue, and we sometimes can't afford to take risk — this is dangerous.

Keeping the team stable enough for us to solve problems and do new things has been a really difficult grind for the past couple years.

A different dollar

Chong Kee

founder, Bay Bucks, a community currency for the Bay Area that was started in 2012 (BayBucks.com)

What economic challenge is the most crucial to overcome?

The most critical challenges are often the ones we are not aware of yet. One that I care deeply about is how our economy runs on a debt based currency that allows big Wall Street banks to extract wealth from local communities through charging interests on money they create out of thin air. To build a truly sustainable local economy, we must build it on interest-free local community currency that will never leak out to Wall Street.

Do any other cities do this?

The city of Wörgl in Austria did ... in 1932, and within a year had a thriving local economy while the rest of Austria and Europe were still mired in the great depression. I had pitched this idea to various city officials. I hope one day someone will understand how much a city can empower itself by doing this.

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