How residents are mobilizing to save Oakland’s only black-owned hemp store

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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 is often celebrated for its versatility. “Hemp has been around for many years,” McAfee said, explaining that sailors used to make the sails of their ships from hemp fibers.

The many uses of the factory are fully on 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 in hemp to stock on its shelves.

Kim McAfee, owner of All Things Hemp, owns a CBD hemp paper product sold in the store. Credit: Amir Aziz

She opened the store in 2019 and it is, to McAfee’s knowledge, the only black-owned brick and mortar store in the Bay Area that exclusively sells hemp and CBD products.

“The only advertisement I had was a painting near the Grand Lake Theater,” she said. “This very first year the sales have been incredible.”

The space was previously known as Dr. J’s Closet, a clothing consignment store that was co-managed by McAfee’s mother and aunt from 2012 until their retirement in 2018.

“The hemp came back and I thought it would be a good thing to invest in,” said McAfee, who took over the space shortly after Dr. J’s shutdown.

The pandemic, however, has not been favorable to McAfee’s dream. “We had to shut down for seven months at the start and obviously we’re still on COVID time,” 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 the latter fostered his 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 still judging Oakland. I think it makes us stronger and we want to stay together.

This sense of community is what prompted the local nonprofit 333 Arts, the owners of Candela Fine Art Printing, and prominent San Francisco artist Serge Gay Jr. to come together to help All Things Hemp.

A fresco painted in All Things Hemp painted by Serge Jr. in 2021 Credit: Amir Aziz

To bring customers back, McAfee is hosting a “reopening” party in its store on Saturday, October 2 from noon to 3 pm. Gay Jr .. The mural depicts Kim’s face surrounded by lush greenery, a panther, and CBD oils in a style reminiscent of 1970s blacklight poster art. Gay also produces limited poster versions of the mural that 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 333 Arts, a local non-profit organization, which found out about McAfee’s situation through Brad Boca and Andrea Pinal of Candela Fine Art Printing. The two business owners have already worked with Kim and decided to help out by printing Gay’s designs on hemp paper for free, and 333 Arts connected McAffee and Gay.

“I was waiting for the right project to come along,” Gay said. “I heard Kim’s story and thought to myself, yes I will.”

Federal Drug Policies Make Hemp Retailers Ineligible for COVID-19 Help

McAfee is counting on the support of his fellow business owners in part because his attempts to apply for federal COVID-Relief help have failed, even though hemp and CBD retailers are technically eligible.

While cannabis companies are not eligible for the majority of federal COVID relief funding due to the fact that marijuana sales are illegal under federal law, the Small Business Administration (SBA) actually allows retailers to hemp and CBD to apply for federal loans.

The Hemp Farming Act, which was enacted in 2018, removed hemp from the Schedule 1 Controlled Substance list because it contains higher amounts of CBD than THC, the compound that gets you high. This re-categorization allowed hemp and CBD retailers to seek federal help. Millions of those dollars went to larger CBD companies such as CV Sciences and CBDmd.

McAfee also looked into applying for Oakland’s Cannabis Fairness Program in 2019 to see if that would be beneficial, but found that she was not eligible. “I don’t have a cannabis license because I don’t sell cannabis and there are other criteria you would have to meet if you were a dispensary, which I am not,” McAfee said. “The whole focus is definitely on marijuana, even though hemp is part of the cannabis family.”

Joining forces to save a small black-owned business

Gay, whose family is from Haiti, has been based in San Francisco for 14 years and previously lived in West Oakland with parents. He often incorporates Oakland environments into his work. “There was a freer political point of view [in Oakland] that I did not see in San Francisco, and I wanted to make it 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 been through as black business owners and wanting to help each other through this crisis,” Gay said. “I told Kim that through this experience I made a lifelong friend.”

The 333 arts nonprofit, formerly known as Dragon School, funded and commissioned the mural as part of its initiative to help small businesses through art installations during the pandemic. Sage Loring, executive director of 333 Arts, said the goal was to connect mom and pop stores with local artists in the hopes the company and artist would gain more visibility.

Products sold in the All Things Hemp store located on Grand Ave. Credit: Amir Aziz

“The murals enhance the spot, people are interested,” Loring said. “You can go to Whole Foods by Lake Merritt and buy CBD products but when you pass [All Things Hemp] this fresco remains engraved in your mind. People love the idea of ​​ma and pa stores and property; I think the art helps support that.

McAfee is hoping the reopening party and working with Gay will bring renewed interest in her store as 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,’” she said after using the products. McAfee is also grateful for all the support she has received from her 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


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