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'Save Our Store' Launched To Keep West Oakland's Only Full-Service Grocery Store From Shutting Down

OAKLAND (KPIX) - Hundreds of people pooled their money to help open it but now West Oakland's only full-service grocery store, Community Foods Market is in danger of shutting down.

"Our traffic has dropped since November by about 28 percent," said Brahm Ahmadi, CEO of Community Foods Market.

Ahmadi was forced to lay off 35 percent of the workers.

"If we're not able to get our traffic and sales back up certainly within next 60 days, I'd say by mid-summer, we would probably be out of business," said Ahmadi.

He launched the "Save Our Store" Booster Campaign on Thursday. They are asking supporters to shop there at least once a month and get five friends to do the same. In return, they have a chance to win a $200 gift certificate.

"I think our community is suffering financially and (the pandemic has) really hit people's ability to shop here," said Ahmadi.

While the big box stores like Costco have seen a surge in profit, many smaller independent markets in low-income neighborhoods have seen sharp declines because many of their customers are struggling in the pandemic.

"The biggest misconception that exists is that independent grocers, small businesses in general, are more expensive than the big chains," said Ahmadi as he explained where some of his customers have gone to shop.

The big chains refused to invest in West Oakland for about 40 years. It was considered a poor neighborhood with mostly Black residents. Over the years, a lot of working-class White residents priced out of San Francisco have moved in.

Since the big stores refused to come and the big banks refused to loan money, hundreds of community members chipped in their own money to open Community Foods nine months before the pandemic. Many investors said they weren't focusing on a return, rather they wanted to support the neighborhood.

The opening of the store in June 2019 made it a rare success story since most people did not think Ahmadi would be able to get independent funding for the store.

"It's like a childhood dream of (mine) to have this store here, thinking about 40 years ago, when Safeway pulled out of here," said investor Dickie Lacey who grew up a block away from the store.

Most investors put in a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

Neighbors said not only has the grocery store provided fresh food, it has improved the neighborhood.

"The loitering (on San Pablo Avenue), now all that's gone. And if we keep on building and building and building, this (neighborhood) will be a great place," said neighbor and shopper Lynnette Robinson.

"This is good for the neighborhood. We've got to keep the store here. They've got to save it somehow," said shopper Lloyd Canamore who lives three blocks away.

For six months during the pandemic, Community Foods gave 50 percent off to all low-income shoppers who paid with EBT cards. It's now offering free delivery to West Oakland seniors who shop at their online store.

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