An empty storefront along MacArthur Boulevard and Seminary Avenue struck by gunfire after a drive-shooting on New Years Day. Credit: Azucena Rasilla

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Monday’s tragic shooting at a Valero gas station on MacArthur Boulevard and Seminary Avenue left one teenager dead and seven people injured.

The Oaklandside visited the location to gather reactions from small business owners and other community members and paint a picture of the surrounding East Oakland neighborhood impacted by the violence.

What we found was a mix of sadness, fear, and frustration with the episodic violence that occurs in the area.

A sandwich shop, MacArthur Deli, sits on the other side of MacArthur Boulevard, directly across the street from the Valero station. The shop’s owner, Vannery, who did not want to share her last name, has owned the business for over 22 years. The small eatery was already closed when the shooting happened on Monday just before 6 p.m.

Vannery told The Oaklandside that shootings aren’t a rare occurrence in the neighborhood. In the early hours of New Year’s Eve, she said, there was a drive-by shooting along MacArthur Boulevard and Seminary Avenue. The gunshots pierced many of the storefronts, including her deli. She said that a police officer stopped by the next day and gave her their card in case she heard anything about the shooting. 

“Nothing has changed,” Vannary said of the neighborhood’s reputation. “It’s the same ol’, same ol’.” Today, only a handful of customers walked in during what she said is usually a busy lunch hour for her business. 

Vannery said she’s been robbed at gunpoint three times over the years she’s been in business here and that she keeps the shop open only between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. as a safety precaution. “Last time, the guy had a gun,” she said. “I told him to get whatever he wanted but not to harm me.” 

She said that during the worst months of the pandemic, the neighborhood was quiet. But once businesses in the area began to reopen, violence once more began to escalate. “I have seen customers come in carrying guns,” Vannery said. “Even women keeping their gun in their purses.”

The storefronts along MacArthur Boulevard and Seminary Avenue were struck by gunfire after a drive-shooting on New Years Day. Credit: Azucena Rasilla

Long-time businesses, with some changing hands between neighbors

Vannery’s brother owns Loard’s Ice Cream, located behind the Valero gas station in the same complex where the shooting occurred. Vannery said the ice cream shop was open at the time. The ice cream shop was closed at the time when The Oaklandside visited the area. Her brother was unavailable for comment.

Two of the longest-running businesses within the same commercial complex are Better Homes Realty, which opened its doors in 1976, and Mill’s Hoagie and Deli Shop, which opened in 1981. 

The latter, a favorite lunchtime spot for people in the area, originally belonged to Estelle Parker, a Philadelphia native, and Lynn Worthington, the former owner and broker of Better Homes Realty. Parker eventually sold the business to one of her employees, and the shop has remained in the hands of the same Asian-American family since. Neither of the businesses offered comment for this story.

The men working inside the Valero gas station on Tuesday also declined to be interviewed. The counter inside the Valero is protected by bulletproof glass, as it is at Charlie’s Las Palmas burrito shop, located across the street on MacArthur Boulevard. The people working the front counter at Charlie’s were also unavailable for comment.

Businesses were back to normal after a shooting that took place at the Valero gas station on MacArthur Boulevard and Seminary Avenue on Monday, Jan. 23. Credit: Azucena Rasilla

‘Just a really nice place’: residents reflect on what they love about the neighborhood  

Harry Williams, a reverend and violence prevention advocate, has lived around Mills College for seven years and loves the area. “There’s a lot of wonderful people, some really cool restaurants, and it’s just a really nice place,” Williams said. 

Williams enjoys frequenting Mill’s Hoagie and Deli and the JJ Fish and Chicken chain location on MacArthur Boulevard—both of which are a stone’s throw from where Monday’s shooting took place.

“It was like the devil banging on the roof of a tin church.”

Rev. Harry Williams

Williams was not present at the time of the shooting, but he was walking outside just a few blocks away when shots rang out. “It was a beautiful night and all of a sudden I heard gunshots,“ he said. “I’m talking about loud bangs; it was like the devil banging on the roof of a tin church.” 

District 6 Councilmember Kevin Jenkins, who represents this area on Oakland’s City Council and was elected to the position in November, heard the shocking news via a constituent who texted him about it that night. “It’s so tragic,” Jenkins told The Oaklandside. 

Jenkins noted that children were taking karate classes at nearby Frohm’s Martial Arts on Seminary Avenue at the time of the shooting. “I don’t want kids growing up thinking their neighborhood is not safe,” he said. 

He and his staff are working on scheduling a community meeting where residents can talk about what happened and come up with potential solutions to address Oakland’s entrenched gun violence problems. 

An East Oakland native, Jenkins still hasn’t fully processed the shooting but took the opportunity to speak on the area’s small but bustling business community. 

“We have thriving small businesses like Olive Street Agency where you can go and get shirts, Frohm’s Martial Arts, and the boxing place [Lightning Lopez Boxing Gym] where people come together,” Jenkins said, referring to a separate commercial corridor a block away. 

Rita Forte of Olive Street Agency, a creative design agency, and screen-printing studio, says the surrounding area is typically a nice place to visit. “We have a great little Black-owned business district here, as I like to call it, Forte said. She had just locked up her store for the night when the shooting occurred. The next morning, she notified her staff.

Forte, an East Oakland native and former DJ who worked for hip-hop radio station KMEL, founded her graphic design business a decade ago and opened her first brick-and-mortar location several months ago. Jenkins has enjoyed the community’s response and says that neighbors stop by to introduce themselves and check out the shop. 

Still, she has always moved with discernment when traveling through the neighborhood. “I’m the type of person who moves from point A to point B,” Forte said. “I don’t stick around.”

Ultimately, Forte stressed her view that gun violence is not just an Oakland issue but a national problem in need of a federal solution. “People have to work to get the guns off the street, and it’s going to have to happen at a federal level.”

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.

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.