North Oakland's 40th Street is perhaps best known as a transportation corridor: Running from IKEA in Emeryville to MacArthur BART and eventually Piedmont Avenue, the four-lane artery covers a lot of ground. But it also seems to offer few opportunities to stop and smell the roses. Yet it is home to a number of local businesses, especially east of Telegraph Avenue. And along four blocks between Webster Street and Broadway — a nondescript stretch that, to the immediate north, coincides with some of the toniest territory in Temescal – a new micro-district is taking root. Here, a number of store owners have bet that constant traffic and high visibility will translate to customers — and, perhaps, the establishment of yet another attraction along the 40th Street line.
Newcomers to the block can acquaint themselves via visits to a trio of hip shops lining the bottom floor of a single building at the corner of Webster and 40th. All three sport tidy storefronts and well-coifed clientele; together, they foster an urban, stylish, of-the-moment appeal that manifests itself in three distinct, yet complementary ways: records, bikes, and coffee. Show up for a latte and vegan doughnut, shop for rare punk vinyl next door, and ride away on a new fixie — that sort of thing.
Since opening in fall 2009, Subrosa Coffee (419 40th St., 510-653-2030, SubrosaCoffee.com) has earned a reputation as one of the best small coffee shops in a city replete with competitors. There's not a lot of elbow room inside, but there is space on the walls for local artists to exhibit their work. An alley next door was converted to a de facto patio, but the cross-pollinated sidewalk out front, stocked with a few chairs and tables, makes for an even better social zone.
Even if you're just stopping by for a caffeine fix, you can't miss Manifesto Bicycles (421 40th St., 510-595-1155, WeAreManifesto.com): It's the one with all the sleek, custom-designed fixed-gear bikes hanging in the window, calling like Sirens with their shiny chrome, clean lines, and bright colors. The shop's online manifesto explains why: "As an extension of the ride, bicycles are a form of self-expression." If we believe bicycles are extensions of ourselves, then they'd better work (and look) fantastic. Look no further.
But if a seven-inch single is more in your price range, a visit to 1-2-3-4 Go! Records (423 40th St., 510-985-0325, 1234GoRecords.com) must be in order. The popular shop once occupied Subrosa's current slot; in 2009, it relocated to its current digs, about three times larger and leaving plenty of room for more than a few browsers at a time. Steve Stevenson's store and label of the same name specialize in punk and indie-rock vinyl, plus a smattering of rock, country, jazz, and blues offerings.
Opening this month, at the ground level of a condominium complex across the street, is the emerging district's latest entry: Homeroom (400 40th St., Homeroom510.com), which cheerfully bills itself as a community-minded mac 'n' cheese restaurant ("the best food on earth," the owners attest). It promises cheese from local, sustainable farms, and a strict focus on slow food in general.
And since no Oakland neighborhood is complete without an art gallery, Rowan Morrison Gallery (330 40th St., 510-384-5344, RowanMorrison.com), the veteran of the bunch and a fixture on the Art Murmur circuit, presides two blocks away. 40th Street is well on its way.