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As a kid, Don Johnson used to ride his bike up and down MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland’s Laurel neighborhood. He’d go back and forth between his family’s home and his relatives’, who all lived in the neighborhood for a time. Along the way, he’d wave hello to the employees at Lan’s Hair Style & Nail Care, or stop by 1 Seafood & Chicken for a quick bite. “The people there say they remember when I was a kid and would visit,” Johnson said.
Lan’s Hair Style & Nail Care is right across the street from Mischief, a boutique gift store Johnson and his wife Tiffany now own and run. The shop, which former owners Lauren and Julien Shields opened in 2017, sells specialized products handmade by over 100 Bay Area-based artists, including greeting cards, planters, t-shirts, jewelry, illustration prints, children’s books, and more.
The Oaklandside visited Mischief on a Tuesday, when the shop is closed. Nevertheless, a passerby came into the store and asked Johnson about a pencil-themed hanger that was nailed to the wall that they had spotted through the window. Johnson happily assisted the potential customer by trying to remove the hanger, but couldn’t find his screwdriver. The customer suggested they try using a pair of scissors that were on the front counter, and Johnson used the scissors to slowly and patiently unscrew each nail. He even gave the nails to his customer, free of charge.
“You never know what a person is going to like until they see it, and that’s what’s cool about this store,” Johnson said. “It’s important for everybody to find unique gifts to give to their friends and family, and we want everyone to feel welcomed in this space as well.”
‘Outside the box’
Johnson can’t remember what business was at this location when he was a kid, but he told The Oaklandside that he always wanted to own an establishment in this neighborhood. “I always wanted to work for myself because I’m an entrepreneur,” he said.
Johnson and his wife Tiffany have day jobs on top of running the store full-time. She is an educator and teaches in the Oakland Unified School District, while Johnson works in Bay Area’s music industry under the artist name Don P and as a manager for music artists. The couple started their own greeting card line, Paper & Scissor Design, and create playful cards with quirky designs drawn by Tiffany and phrases thought up by Johnson.
The couple has sold their cards at the shop since its early days and got in touch with the former owners through Instagram to ask about selling there. In June of 2020, the Shields announced they would be stepping down from Mischief and handing ownership over to Tiffany and Johnson. “They are super talented, hard-working, very sweet, and generally amazing people. Also, Don [Johnson] grew up just a block away from the store, so it feels very meant to be,” the Shields wrote in a statement they posted on Facebook and sent out to newsletter subscribers.
For Johnson, taking ownership of Mischief was a dream come true. He’d tried to open a shoe store in Laurel years ago, but there were no storefronts available at the time. “I think this is a good example for the younger homies to understand that you can do things that are outside the box and different from what people might expect you to do,” Johnson said.
Johnson and Tiffany handle day-to-day operations and oversee every aspect of running the store. They often meet makers through social media, or referrals made through mutual friends.
“The upside is that you have someone to talk to about the business even when you’re not at work, but that’s also the downside,” Johnson said. Still, there’s no one else he would rather run the shop with than Tiffany. “She’s such a good artist, very practical, and can figure out anything; she’s just super cool like that,” he said.
On top of Mischief and their day jobs, the couple is also raising their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and a newborn baby, born on February 22, 2022, or 2/2/22.
Deepening community in Laurel
Two years into running Mischief, Johnson feels even more proud to be a part of the small merchant community that makes up their stretch of MacArthur Boulevard. “What’s cool about Laurel is that people from all around the city come and converge,” Johnson said.
He especially loves the holiday events that are held in the neighborhood. “People came together [last month] to have a Chinese New Year Festival, and I like that the community comes together for stuff like that.”
Last December, Mischief took part in the Santa Stroll, an event hosted by the Laurel District Association where shops in the neighborhood host someone dressed up as Santa Claus and kids get to meet them. Johnson and Tiffany hosted Santa in Mischief’s backyard space, and kids got to take part in a Christmas ornament-making workshop there.
The turnout, Johnson says, surprised him. “I didn’t know there was going to be so many people coming to see Santa that day, it was crazy,” he said. “Even the mayor [Libby Schaaf] came through and bought a few things.”
During the pandemic, Mischief has hosted online maker workshops on crafts like embroidery, collage making for kids, and even how to make reusable food wraps using fabric and melted beeswax.
As a kid who grew up in Laurel, Johnson doesn’t remember these kinds of events or opportunities being available—not that they didn’t have fun anyway. He would ride his bike around looking for fruits to pick from trees, or jump on the bus with friends and head to nearby Dimond Park to swim at the community pool. He and the other neighborhood kids would also play basketball at a local middle school after hours. “This whole neighborhood was always cool because you could just hang out and not have to worry about a lot of drama,” Johnson said.
With Mischief, Johnson and his wife are looking to expand the creative opportunities that are available to local kids and artists. The couple is currently working on plans to renovate their backyard space and begin hosting more in-person workshops and artist networking events. The day after Santa Stroll, Mischief hosted a youth craft fair, and Johnson said kids went to work setting up their booth and wares.
“Those kids sold a lot of stuff, I was shocked; they made serious money,” Johnson said. “We want people to come here and do stuff like that, and be inspired to become an entrepreneur.”
A shop that gives shine to all kinds of artists and makers
Since taking over the shop, the couple has continued to make Mischief a welcoming space for customers, as well as maintaining relationships with longtime Mischief artists like Gillian Dreher, a Laurel-based graphic designer.
Dreher, a friend of the previous owners, has sold her vibrant colored illustrations of everyday people since Mischief opened five years ago. She started stocking prints at the store at her friends’ request and continues to sell her wares there because of how much she respects Tiffany and Johnson. “I’m really impressed by her [Tiffany], and I love the attitude she brings to the shop,” said Dreher.
Dreher initially expected the couple to make significant changes to the store. “People usually like to mix it up, but they did this really nice add-on instead of completely flipping it on its head,” Dreher said. “I feel like with Mischief, they go beyond shopping trends and they focus on what the community needs and what they like.”
Selling what they like has organically resulted in more works by BIPOC creators at the store. “When it comes to mixing up the demographic and making sure things are diverse, it comes pretty easily to us because that’s who we are,” Johnson said.
Athenia Teng, an Oakland-based therapist and owner of jewelry line Two Roots Shop, said the offerings at the store make her feel like “a piece of me gets to be a part of this community,” Teng said. “Sometimes when I post on IG about being at Mischief, other artists will respond and say, ‘I’m there too’, and that helps connect me with other people.”
Teng has lived in Oakland for 12 years and has been working as a therapist since 2017, but was previously a graphic designer. Making her unique, geometric-shaped jewelry serves as a nice respite from her job because “you’re talking about a lot of difficult things,” Teng said. She has sold her jewelry at Mischief since late 2020. “I am personally very interested in supporting BIPOC businesses, whether it’s with my own money or with my work,” she said.
Demetris Washington, who prefers to go by his artist name BAMR—“Becoming A Man Righteously”—is friends with Johnson and works with him because he knows how to work with and support artists. “You could tell the guy is a people’s person because you have to deal with so many different kinds of people assembling that kind of shop,” BAMR said.
BAMR is a Sacramento-based muralist and designer famous for his giant Black Lives Matter mural outside of Sacramento City Hall and has deep family roots in East Oakland. He hosted a pop-up at Mischief in late 2020, selling intricately designed rolling trays. One of the main reasons why he partners with Johnson and Tiffany is because he feels they value his art and encourage him to value it, too. “Someone came in wanting to buy the trays. I asked them, ‘How much would you pay for this?’ and they said they would pay $100,” Johnson said. “I told BAMR to never downplay his art because he’s an amazing artist.”
Jesse Byrd, an Oakland-raised children’s picture book author, said having a local brick-and-mortar outlet for his work is crucial for his sales. “Customers can look through the pages of your books, they can ask the owner about the author,” Byrd said, “and having a physical presence at stores is especially important in the children’s picture books because children’s book sales are still primarily dependent on physical sales.”
He feels that his mission to foster Black representation through self-ownership is in line with Mischief’s ethos. “When you own your own thing, you have more say in how you want to serve the people,” Byrd said, “and that’s what I admire about [Johnson and Tiffany].”
Mischief is at 3908 MacArthur Blvd. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 12-5 p.m.