The changing face of a long time Sacramento neighborhood
Every Saturday during the cool morning hours, neighborhood volunteers and artisans, food vendors and farmers set up shop at the Oak Park Farmers’ Market held in McClatchy Park. Baskets of sweet berries and bunches of leafy greens decorate dozens of merchant tables followed by tents with fresh-cut wildflowers, savory and sweet locally baked goods, and the aroma of piping hot tamales wafts through each makeshift aisle.
It’s here under a shaded awning that a majority of Oak Park residents share a bite to eat, purchase fresh fruit and vegetables for the week, and listen to live music while in the presence of neighbors.
One familiar face who frequents this Saturday morning marketplace is Russell Rawlings, a nine-year resident of Oak Park and former candidate for mayor during this year’s election.
Oak Park has been changing for years. From Broadway and Alhambra Boulevard toward Stockton and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevards, coffee shops, juice bars, chic taquerias, and even a neighborhood brewery are all new editions to the neighborhood.
Travel a little further down the Broadway Triangle near 34th Street where Arthur Henry’s Supper Club & Ruby Room dominates the corner with its neon sign and peppery aroma of grilled steak. Just across the street, two new boutiques also set up shop: Rire and Nectar.
Rire sells fashion-forward attire like floral dresses and cute rompers while Nectar, a business owned by Oak Park resident Janell Lacayo, focuses more on eclectic jewelry and locally made essential oils and soaps.
With all of the economic developments, Rawlings, who is also a community activist and Oak Park Neighborhood Association Board member, still has his concerns in regard to the neighborhood’s longtime residents and making sure their voices are taken into consideration with the new direction of the area.
“Over the years we’ve seen a lot of development and you read stories about the resurgence of Oak Park, but there’s a lot of history here and I hope that the new direction remembers that,” Rawlings says. “When I was running for mayor, I used the story of Oak Park to express my concerns about the things I was seeing around me and the disconnect between the development of the neighborhood and the people who are already in the neighborhood participating and making it what it is.”
Much like the farmers’ market at McClatchy Park where community-minded neighbors gather to shoot the breeze, the neighborhood’s coffee shops also act as a hub for meetings or a safe haven for high school students to take advantage of free wi-fi to finish their homework.
Broadway Coffee is the newest caffeine destination in the neighborhood and celebrated its one-year anniversary in August. During spring break, students in partnership with Target Excellence, an educational non-profit organization, along with local artist Isaiah Williams, worked together to create a bright mural on one entire side of the coffee shop.
Since then, Williams along with Demetris “BAMR” Washington continued to build on the students’ work and now the entire building is covered with an overflowing java river, lush trees, and eccentric characters.
“It’s epic. It gives the place vibrancy, life, love, laughter and it used to be a blank canvas,” Assistant manager, Elizabeth Harvey says about the mural. “I often wondered how it was going to grow, but wow, we really couldn’t ask for more.”
Harvey, attended Sacramento High School in Oak Park and says when the opportunity to work at the quaint coffee shop presented itself she was ready to jump on board. Plus, Harvey admits she’s always had a soft spot for her teenage stomping grounds.
“There’s really a movement happening in Oak Park right now,” Harvey says. “The people that work in the community come in and have great conversations. I haven’t seen a community as strong as Oak Park. All the businesses in the neighborhood also treat us like family just because we’re here. I really look forward to going to work every single time.”
Rawlings agrees, if there’s one thing that he enjoys about the home he’s built in Oak Park it’s without a doubt the people.
“I love the people I have met. When I moved in I really didn’t expect to identify with the community [and] I didn’t expect to make friends quickly. I started going to the coffee shop and it started happening immediately,” Rawlings says. “The community really is what it’s about and I think that’s the coolest thing about Oak Park.”