Construction of the Montclair Village Plaza project has started at the intersection of Mountain Street and Antioch Court. Credit: Ricky Rodas

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Tom Brodehl, the owner of Art Loft Framing on a short street called Antioch Court in Montclair, has been in the framing business since he was a kid. “My father owned a framing shop on 108th [avenue], taught me how to make frames,” said Brodehl. “After I had graduated from Merritt College and served in the military, I opened my shop here in Montclair.” Art Loft Framing, which is going on 50 years next year, has been on the quaint, one-block street for nearly 38 years since relocating in the early 1980s. 

Tom is set to retire next year and leave the business in the hands of his co-owner Sabrina, but not before he gets to see Antioch Court get a major upgrade, one that’s been in the works for years.

Tom Brodehl and Sabrina, owners of Art Loft Framing on Antioch Court in Montclair. The duo tends to work non-stop throughout the day. “We are incredibly busy,” said Brodehl. Credit: Ricky Rodas

Construction of the Montclair Village Plaza, a project that will turn Antioch Court in Montclair into a semi-permanent community events space, is finally underway. 

The project will drastically transform the one-way street, which is prone to safety hazards including deteriorating sidewalks and potholes, and suffers from a lack of visible signage that leads vehicles to drive the wrong way. 

The sidewalks will be fixed and the roads fully paved. Sidewalk benches will be added, as well as some potted plants for visual appeal. Local artists will be commissioned to create public art installations. Crosswalks connecting Mountain Street to Antioch will be retrofitted with clearer signage, making it easier for pedestrians to cross the street. 

The intersection of Mountain Street and Antioch Court in Montclair. Credit: Ricky Rodas

And perhaps most significantly, Antioch Court will also be closed to cars on event days for walkers and bikers to use the full roadway, and retractable metal posts will be built into the street to allow for safe closure. 

Brodehl, who was previously involved in talks years ago to redevelop the street, is glad it’s finally coming to fruition. “We won’t be like Walnut Creek, but it’ll be a nice community area.” 

The groundbreaking occurred on Feb. 9th and should be complete in four to six weeks. Construction was initially slated for the end of 2020 but was delayed nearly two years due to the pandemic. 

The Montclair Village Association, a business improvement district that represents merchants in the area, led this effort to create the first official public events space in the neighborhood.

“We want to be able to showcase the art in our community in a consistent way,” Daniel Swafford, executive director of the Montclair Village Assocation, told The Oaklandside. “Montclair is also known for its high number of locally owned businesses, so we want to be able to sustain that as well by bringing more foot traffic to the area.” 

District 4 Councilmember Sheng Thao also advocated for the construction of the plaza by hosting virtual community hearings and getting the city to pitch in approximately $480,000 towards these street upgrades. “The Montclair Village Association did a great job of fundraising already, so I fought for funding from the city to cover the remaining amount,” Thao said. 

Aside from needed road safety improvement, Councilmember Thao was interested in the community-space aspect of the plaza and hopes it will be visited by District 4 residents residing in the flatlands. “It’s important for our youth to be able to perform there, to invite people who are not usually there to hang out,” Thao said. “For me, this is about bringing all of Oakland to this space and not just a part of Oakland, which is Montclair in itself.” 

Tom Brodehl, however, doesn’t think people from other parts of Oakland will come to visit and shop when other neighborhoods have public spaces and businesses of their own. “What do we have that they don’t have?” Brodehl said. He’s also skeptical that additional foot traffic will help local shops, many of whom have been operating for more than 30 years and rely on their loyal Montclair clientele. “There’s no real turnover here,” he said.

John Brown and Xiaobei Wei, owners of Sophie’s Cuppa Tea on Antioch Court in Montclair. Credit: Ricky Rodas

Even newer businesses like Sophie’s Cuppa Tea, a specialty Chinese tea cafe that opened on Antioch Court in 2014, have managed to secure a steady profit while enduring less foot traffic in the area. “Pre-pandemic, I would have said, ‘Great to have more foot traffic,’ but we’ve changed our approach, “ said John Brown, the shop’s co-owner. 

Brown and co-owner Xiaobei Wei have hosted virtual tea sessions at $45 per session during the pandemic, and that’s helped them sustain interest in the Sophie’s Cuppa Tea in Montclair as well as other parts of Oakland. “It turns out there are a lot of tea drinkers here and they’ve come to understand the unusual tea offerings we have.” 

Conversations with other small business owners on Antioch Court reveal that all are open to increased foot traffic, but see the creation of community space as the primary benefit that will come from the village plaza. “If it causes the street to be repaired, I’m in favor,” Brown said. “If people are safe, I’m in favor.” 

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.