Brett Rounsaville and April Underwood of Nearby Bay Area. Credit: Pete Rosos

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During the depths of the pandemic last year, as local small businesses were struggling to stay open, Brett Rounsaville and April Underwood had an idea: what if there was an alternative to Amazon that offered products like jewelry, apparel, spices, art supplies, toys, and more, from local brick and mortar shops? 

In September, they launched Keep Oakland Alive, an online shopping platform that delivered goods from local stores to people’s homes, all in one package within one to four days—for free. The pilot launched with more than 20,000 items from 17 shops in Oakland. Retailers shared a percentage of each sale with Keep Oakland Alive to help cover the cost of delivery, administration, and credit card processing fees. 

Keep Oakland Alive has grown substantially over the past year, bringing in more than $200,000 in sales and now partnering with over 60 stores, according to Rounsaville and Underwood. 

To mark their one-year anniversary, the company has rebranded as Nearby Bay Area and is expanding to Berkeley and Alameda.

Rounsaville, head of merchant operations, said they’ve overcome a lot of challenges since launch, including meeting the  surprisingly overwhelming demand during last year’s holiday season as well as developing an e-commerce platform that can integrate with a store’s system within one day. 

Emily Goldenberg, owner of GoldenBug, a children’s shoe store in Rockridge, said she’s been happy with Keep Oakland Alive and is excited about the opportunity to add her Berkeley store, which features kids apparel and gifts, to the platform. 

“It’s silly not to be involved; it’s just so easy,” said Goldenberg. 

One of the first Berkeley businesses to sign on to Nearby is a local company without a brick and mortar presence. Agni, which describes itself as a food healing company, offers food “for better periods, postpartum health, and fertility.” Their best-selling product is the women’s health box, which includes two types of seasonings, two types of chocolate chip cookies, and peppermint chasteberry tea. 

West Berkeley-based Agni co-founder and CEO Astrid Schanz-Garbassi said that partnering with Nearby will allow her company to act more like a local business, even though they don’t have an actual storefront. Agni currently relies on local practitioners—herbalists, nutritionists, and acupuncturists—to sell its products through their clinics and by word of mouth. “To be discovered by our own community, and being able to build relationships with people who are local is huge,” she said. Agni is looking to host block parties, and wants to leverage other stores on the Nearby app to help build community.

Nearby’s Rounsaville has been pleased by the response from Berkeley shop owners, which include Bird & Bean, a children’s store, and its sister company, Stitch + Sparrow, which offers women’s apparel. “They’re excited, and they understand the value,” he said. 

Alameda sign-ons include apparel stores Honour Brand, known for its heritage graphic tees, hoodies, and baseball caps, and All Good Living, which sells organic clothes and eco-conscious products.

Nearby currently employs seven people locally, as well as three based in Austin, Texas, where they’ve been running a similar local shopping app for two months. Rounsaville said that they’ll be hiring for both full-time and seasonal workers because of their East Bay expansion and the coming holiday season. Although he can’t be specific, he predicts the company will be in “a lot more cities” by next Christmas.

Rounsaville said he knew they’d have to re-brand when they expanded in the East Bay, noting that the Keep Oakland Alive moniker also suggested “too much of a savior complex.”

GoldenBug’s Goldenberg said there are “tons” of great retailers on Berkeley’s Fourth Street and thinks the Nearby model of online shopping with a local focus will snowball.

“I’m hoping it takes off—for my business’ sake, and for all Berkeley small business’ sake,” she said.

C.J. Hirschfield

C.J. Hirschfield recently retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she was charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry, where she produced two regular series and ran San Francisco’s public access channel. She penned a weekly column for the Piedmont Post for 13 years, wrote regularly for Oakland Local, and has contributed to KQED’s Perspectives series. She now writes for EatDrinkFilms and Splash Pad News. She holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University.