OAKLAND — An Oakland furniture store that’s been in business for more than 30 years announced its closing for good in a little over a week.
The nonprofit that runs Uhuru Furniture on Grand Avenue said the cost of doing business just isn’t sustainable any longer.
While some large retailers are blaming rising retail crime as a reason for closing stores, Uhuru went out of its way to say that was not a factor.
“We don’t have a warehouse or storage, so it has to come in and it has to go out,” said Jeanine Griswa, Uhuru Furniture’s assistant manager.
Every day for 34 years, she has overseen about two truckloads of donated furniture come in and another two truckloads go out.
“People purchase it and have it delivered,” she said.
Everything in the store is second hand, often saved from a landfill and donated. The store was originally started as a way to raise money for the nonprofit APEDF or African People’s Education and Defense Fund – which invests in economic development, education and health programs for communities of color.
“The expenses are now hitting the gross, and if we go any further, we’re going to be owing money to the nonprofit, which is the complete opposite of what we’re designed to do,” said Griswa.
She’s worked at the store since she was 19 years old, starting at the store a few months after it opened in 1989.
She said the furniture business is labor and fuel intensive, two costs that have continued to climb over the past few years. That’s the biggest factor that she and her colleagues looked at when making the tough decision to close.
“I mean people are coming in here just hugging us, you know just devastated and shocked. I’d say shocked is the main thing people are experiencing,” she said
That was especially true for longtime shopper Robert Perez when he found out the store was closing while coming to browse vintage prints.
“I did not hear that! Oh my gosh you know what, I didn’t even notice. I am bummed,” said Perez as he hid his face in his hands.
Perez will have to find another spot for vintage treasures because store managers said they refused to cut employee salaries to balance the books. It simply goes against the mission of the nonprofit, the same way it goes against the mission to blame increased crime for the stores closing when they see it as an economic issue.
“People can’t survive, and if they have to resort to crime to offset their living situation. It’s not the crime that’s the problem; it’s the economy that’s the problem, and the fact that the economy does not take care of African and Indigenous people,” says Griswa.
The last day for furniture donations is Sunday, Oct. 15. The store will close for good on Oct. 22. They do note nothing is changing with the nonprofit, and it will focus attention on fundraising in other areas.
To learn more about APEDF you can visit their website at apedf.org.