Once the city of Oakland deemed our family market blighted, it quickly used eminent domain laws to wriggle it away for the public good. The condos built there start in the low $300,000's.
“The lawyer told me it would cost a few hundred thousand to fight it, so I took the offer,” said Demos Karas, my father, who ran Dan’s Produce Market, located at 20th and Telegraph Avenue, since 1966.
The city paid Karas and his partners a total of $932,000, back in 2000, records show, for the 10,000 square foot property, or a paltry 93 cents a square foot. Soon after, all of the family-run businesses inside were closed including a Korean-owned delicatessen, a Chinese-owned restaurant and meat market, a Mexican-owned burrito shop, a pizza parlor and a donut shop.
The Oakland Downtown Food Mart, known in the neighborhood as the “D & F,” was a community meeting spot and an essential part of the city’s fabric. Our customers were among the city's most influential personalities: Black Panther’s leader, Huey Newton; Your Black Muslim Bakery's founder, Dr. Yusef Bey; Diego Chairs, who pumped iron at the nearby YMCA and played prisoner roles in movies like Clint Eastwood's "The Dead Pool," Oakland Raiders player, Otis Sistrunk and Tower of Power's Lenny Williams.
Oakland police officers set up an “office” there. Wearing a green produce smock, I would write parking tickets to people who blocked our driveway while officers Tony Jovino, Ken Douglas, Mike Bower and Chris Rye laughed and poured their own coffee.
The D & F served the people, which is why politicians visited often too. Nestled in a predominantly black and democratic community, it was a familiar stop for local leaders like Senator Nick Petrisand U.S. Congressman Ron Dellums. In the 70s, former Oakland City Councilman Fred Maggiora would walk from city hall – a few blocks away -- to trade Karas city-comped Oakland A’s tickets for boxes of fruit. He burned rubber out of a back alley onto 20th Street after Karas sold him the family's 1974 Chevy Nova. Maggiora liked the "roar" of the engine, but I had flipped the air filter housing at the high school auto shop so it sounded stronger than it really was.
So what became of the property where so many good times were shared? The city used eminent domain to shut down all eight businesses inside, including ours, which was established in 1929. The historic brick building, which survived the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, was bulldozed. Oakland sold the prime lot, located across the street from Sears, to Forest City, an NYSE-traded developer. The area was then designated "uptown" -- instead of downtown -- and Forest City then built high-end apartments to lure some 10,000 wealthy residents to the area.
Those who dared to stay and fight, like John Revelli, who owned a tire shop next door, got crushed thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision.
Occupy Oakland supporters set up camp at 19th & Telegraph Avenue, on November 20, 2011, next to where a prosperous set of family markets once stood. If only they had set up camp there 10 years ago, then maybe the D & F might still be around.
Power to the people.
-- THEO KARANTSALIS
Theo Karantsalis spent his youth working at his family's Downtown Foodmart, formerly located at 20th & Telegraph Avenue, before the city of Oakland seized the property, in 2000, under eminent domain. He was also an "ace" news carrier for the Oakland Tribune. He now lives in Miami, Fla.
OAKLAND STROKE: Theo Karantsalis, 15, and Tower of Power's Lenny Williams, in 1977, after a late-night concert.