The Oak Park neighborhood in Sacramento, California's Midtown district is in the process of being transformed from a once rundown, "undesireable" neighborhood in the city, to one in which its residents and others in this city of 500,000 are calling an "up-and-comer."
Midtown is one of Sacramento's oldest districts. It's near the city's downtown core and not far from the California state capital building. It's streets are lined with fifty-plus year-old large shade trees, and there are many victorian-style homes in the area.
The Oak Park neighborhood, which is in Midtown, was once a thriving place, especially in the Sacramento of the 1950's and early 1960's. However, it eventually became rundown: the crime rate soared, drugs came to the neighborhood, and businesses, along with working and upper-class families left for the suburbs.
Beginning in the mid-1990's however things started to change thanks to a dedicated group of residents, small business people and a few supporters on the Sacramento City Council and in the City Manager's office. A group called the Oak Park Neighborhood Association, comprised of residents and small business owners, was formed and the group began to lobby city hall for attention. The group also reached out to real estate agents and others, encouraging them to market the neighborhood as a desireable residential location in the city.
The timing was good from a residential point of view in Sacramento. Housing prices were skyrocketing in the city's more "desireable" neighborhoods. Oak Park was a relative bargain. Then, many people discovered the neighborhood's gorgeous but rundown victorian houses and jumped at the chance to buy these houses and renovate them. This activity, along with the opening of a few new, small businesses started a slow but sure turnaround for the neighborhood.
This revitalization of Oak Park has picked up steam in the last couple years, although much remains to be done, especially in the view of the neighborhood association which got the ball rolling in the mid-1990's.
At the top of the group's agenda has been launcnching a major effort over the last few years to get retail businesses to locate stores in the neighborhood so that residents don't have to drive across the city to shop. Chief among their goals has been to get a high-quality grocery store into an empty building in the core of the neighborhood called the Made-Rite property.
Last night at a meeting of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association it was announced that the goal of the activists had been achieved: a 10,000 square foot Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market store will go into the empty Made-Rite property building and serve as a local neighborhood grocery store for residents in the growing and prospering neighborhood. The store is scheduled to be open in early 2009, a member of the association told us.
While Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood isn't quite a "food desert" on the order of Compton, California, which we discussed in our lead story above, it is a neighborhood underserved by food stores and one on the road to rivitalization.
The Fresh & Easy store will become an integral part of Oak Park's experiment in better urban living. A new urban loft residential development called 4th Avenue Lofts is currently being constructed in the neighborhood, the classic Guild Theatre has been renovated, new retail stores are opening, as are restaurants and even an upscale wine bar. The older, tree-lined neighborhood is becoming one of the city's most desireable places to live, especially among young professionals, artists and even suburbanites who are moving back into the city.
Having the Fresh & Easy store come in though is key to what the neighborhood association wants the area to become, a member of the group told us. What Oak Park's residents want is a neighborhood of their own, with a mix of people of all ethnicities and income levels, lots of local shopping choices, a lively street life, and a better quality of life than has previously been the case.
The residents of Oak Park have achieved much of what they want already--and have more to look forward to coming up. Tesco's Fresh & Easy has an opportunity to be a major part of this ongoing quality-of-life improvement--and to gain the loyalty of the neighborhood in the process.