downtown oakland
Downtown Oakland circa 1910

Why the DTO <3 DeLauers

July 1, 2008

There’s more than a little jubilation around downtown since century-old DeLauer’s Super Newsstand, open twenty-four hours on Broadway between 13th and 14th, will be spared the axe. This might be surprising to many who don’t see the value of a newsstand or the value of an all-night mid-downtown gathering place, which BART patrons often find sketchy. The benefit downtowners see in DeLauer’s is that precisely because it’s a well-lit gathering place, it contributes to a safe environment at night.

13th and Broadway is a major transit hub. DeLauer’s light and street presence provide a needed active space between the BART station, bus stops, and taxi stand: the “eyes on the street.” While the folks who create and inhabit this space are not exactly Jerry Brown’s dream downtowners, there are fewer medical and criminal emergencies at DeLauer’s than at Burger King across 13th, which hosts an ambulance weekly. On balance, DeLauer’s makes a tremendous contribution to downtown safety, and whatever criminal activity it may attract is generally of the victimless sort. With a dark, closed store at night (assuming DeLauer’s space isn’t abandoned, torn down, or subject to years of construction, all of which would be even worse), the center of the DTO would be much more grim.

There’s no fundamental market reason why DeLauer’s Super Newsstand couldn’t continue. Obviously there is no longer a need for many newsstands across the city, and Cody’s recently threw in the towel. But DeLauer’s has a huge potential customer base and can make a lot of revenue on the printed page, even as fewer people make trips to Berkeley to buy books. DeLauer’s has always done a good job catering to the local crowd, with the Economist usually getting prominent placement, and romantic titles like Milk in My Coffee share counter side shelf space with Iceberg Slim and mainstream mystery novels. There really should be somewhere in downtown Oakland to buy soda, sandwiches or cigarettes in the middle of the night. A rough transition from the retiring management team and a heavy debt load, not decreased demand, is the newsstand’s real problem.

I’ve also heard many downtowners express their hopes for construction of the office building at 11th and Broadway, which would fill in a very large hole, an entire block face of empty lot and abandoned building. A UC Berkeley / CalTrans project is currently studying pedestrian traffic at 12th and Broadway, and preliminary results indicate the pedestrian crossings equal car crossings (about 6.9m annual trips). Acknowledging this area’s importance, AC Transit is reportedly planning to help DeLauer’s out with rent in exchange for hosting a transit kiosk. Downtowners ♥ DeLauer’s because people who use Broadway throughout the day understand that a continuous, pedestrian-oriented retail strip improves their experience and their safety. Now if only Rockridgers would figure that out. 

4 comments

1 Joanna { 07.01.08 at 11:54 pm }

Thanks dto – I really appreciate reading your point of view and I hadn’t thought about the 24-hour aspect. Maybe they should turn themselves into a non-profit of some sort. Maybe the library could set up shop here? (just throwing out ideas) In any case the business plan needs to be updated to make it work. Maybe a reality tv show could be created to solve this problem?

I would question office buildings and whether they add any feel of security… and maybe they do, I don’t know. But it seems that a bunch of empty lobbies along Broadway would only be good when mixed with spaces such as Burger King and DeLauer’s. Like Market Street in SF.

And maybe the grocery store that Rockridge doesn’t want could go in that area to solve all the new Uptown folks and even JLS & Old Oakland. (again, just throwing out more ideas)

2 dto510 { 07.02.08 at 12:27 am }

I like the idea of partnering with the library as well as AC Transit. I’ve long though the library should operate an internet cafe downtown.

Office buildings are certainly an improvement over abandoned buildings. Contemporary office buildings have large, well-lit lobbies with 24-hour security. How helpful they are depends on how close to the street the lobbies are located: the 1100 Broadway project is very urban and pedestrian-friendly.

I would say that Rockridge does want the grocery store, otherwise Safeway wouldn’t remodel it. The people at the meeting are not Safeway’s customers, a point they haven’t been reluctant to share. That store is as far away from downtown as it gets: there are two closer Safeways. Old Oakland already has a grocery store. My argument is more about urban design and activity rather than service: what the DTO and Rockridge share in common is that, as urban neighborhoods, continuous pedestrian-oriented retail strips are both pleasant and safe.

3 Becks { 07.02.08 at 11:31 pm }

I love the idea of the library getting involved here. I was so jealous when I found out that BART teamed up with the Contra Costa library to set up a book lending system at the Pittsburg station.

One of the problems in Rockridge is that the neighbors who are up in arms neither want to view Rockridge as urban or as suburban. At the meeting, they argued that they were a small community so the proposed Safeway is too big and would have huge effects. But then they followed by saying that the project was too suburban. I see Rockridge as an urban neighborhood too, but I think you’d be surprised by how many residents do not see it that way.

4 DeLauer’s on The DTO | A Better Oakland { 07.10.08 at 10:59 pm }

[...] wrote a really good post last week about how important DeLauer’s is to the DTO: 13th and Broadway is a major transit hub. DeLauer’s light and street presence provide [...]