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It’s no secret that Kim McAfee loves the hemp plant, a relative of cannabis that contains lower levels of THC and CBD, and which is often celebrated for its versatility. “Hemp has been around for many years,” McAfee said, explaining that sailors once crafted the sails of their ships out of hemp fibers.
The plant’s wide-ranging uses are on full display at All Things Hemp, McAfee’s store located at 3738 Grand Avenue in Oakland’s Lakeshore neighborhood. From dresses to CBD ointments to notebooks and even pasta, McAfee has found just about anything you can imagine made of hemp to stock on her shelves.
She opened the store in 2019 and it is, to McAfee’s knowledge, the only Black-owned brick and mortar shop in the Bay Area selling hemp and CBD products exclusively.
“The only advertising I had was a chalkboard down by the Grand Lake Theater,” she said. “That very first year, sales were amazing.”
The space was previously known as Dr. J’s closet, a clothing consignment store that was co-run by McAfee’s mother and aunt from 2012 until they retired in 2018.
“Hemp has been coming back around and I thought it would be a good thing to invest in,” said McAfee, who took over the space shortly after Dr. J’s closed.
The pandemic, however, has not been kind to McAfee’s dream. “We had to close for seven months at the start and we’re still obviously in COVID times,” she said. All Things Hemp is currently only open Wednesday through Friday, and McAfee said she sometimes goes days without seeing a single customer.
McAfee grew up between Berkeley and Oakland and said that the latter fostered her entrepreneurial spirit. “Berkeley is more of a college town,” she said. “When you’re in Oakland, you feel like you’re in a tight community because everyone is always judging Oakland. I think that makes us stronger and we want to stick together.”
That sense of community is what compelled the local nonprofit 333 Arts, the owners of Candela Fine Art Printing, and the prominent San Francisco-based artist Serge Gay Jr. to join together to help All Things Hemp.
To bring customers back, McAfee is hosting a “reopening” party at her shop on Saturday, Oct. 2 from 12 to 3 p.m. Attendees will be treated to food catered by La Catrina taco truck and get to see the shop’s new mural painted by Serge Gay Jr.. The mural depicts Kim’s face surrounded by lush greenery, a panther, and CBD oils in a style that recalls 1970s blacklight-poster art.. Gay also produced limited poster versions of the mural which will be sold at the event.
“I really wanted to focus on the fact that this is a Black woman-owned business in Oakland,” Gay said.
The mural was fully paid for and commissioned by local nonprofit 333 Arts, who found out about McAfee’s situation through Brad Boca and Andrea Pinal of Candela Fine Art Printing. The two business owners have previously worked with Kim, and decided to help by printing Gay’s designs on hemp paper, free of charge, and 333 Arts connected McAffee and Gay.
“I was waiting until the right project came along,” Gay said. “I heard Kim’s story and was like, yes, I’ll do it.”
Federal drug policies make hemp retailers ineligible for COVID-19 aid
McAfee is relying on the support of fellow business owners in part because her attempts to apply for Federal COVID-Relief aid have been unsuccessful, even though hemp and CBD retailers are technically eligible.
While cannabis businesses are ineligible for a majority of federal COVID-relief funding due to marijuana sales being illegal under federal law, the Small Business Administration (SBA) does in fact allow hemp and CBD retailers to apply for federal loans.
The Hemp Farming Act, which was signed into law in 2018, removed hemp from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances because it contains higher amounts of CBD than THC, the compound that gets you high. This recategorization has allowed hemp and CBD retailers to apply for federal aid money. Millions of those dollars were awarded to larger CBD companies such CV Sciences and CBDmd.
McAfee also looked into applying for Oakland’s Cannabis Equity Program in 2019 to see if it would be beneficial but found out she was ineligible. “I don’t have a cannabis license because I’m not selling cannabis and there are other criteria that you would have to meet if you were a dispensary, which I am not,” McAfee said. “All the focus is definitely on marijuana, even though hemp is in the cannabis family.”
Banding together to save a Black-owned small business
Gay, whose family is from Haiti, has been based In San Francisco for the past 14 years and previously lived in West Oakland with relatives. He often incorporates Oakland’s environments into his work. “There was a more free-spirited political point of view [in Oakland] that I didn’t see in San Francisco, and I wanted to make that heard [through my work],” Gay said.
He also wanted to capture the sense of camaraderie he and McAfee had from the start. “We had a lot in common in what we’ve experienced as Black business owners and wanting to help one another through this crisis,” Gay said. “I told Kim that through this experience I’ve made a friend for life.”
The nonprofit 333 arts, formerly known as Dragon School, funded and commissioned the mural as part of their initiative to help small businesses through art installations during the pandemic. Sage Loring, executive director of 333 Arts, said the goal is to connect mom and pop shops with local artists in the hopes that both the business and the artist get more exposure.
“Murals showcase the spot, it makes people interested in it,” Loring said. “You can go down to Whole Foods by Lake Merritt and buy CBD products but when you go by [All Things Hemp] that mural sticks in your mind. People like the idea of ma and pa shops and ownership; I think art helps support that.”
McAfee is hoping that the reopening party and the collaboration with Gay will bring renewed interest in her store because she believes in the store and the benefits of hemp. “I love when people come back to the store and say, ‘I feel so much better,’” after using the products, she said. McAfee is also grateful for all the support she’s gotten from fellow local business owners. “You don’t know how amazing it is to know that people would help me—a stranger—for free.”
All Things Hemp reopening party: Saturday, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., 3738 Grand Avenue