Matt and Fidel completed the first round of fieldwork in North Fair Oaks, an unincorporated area in San Mateo County adjacent to Redwood City on Thursday morning. We were able to conduct conversational interviews with six small businesses and gather information about businesses displacement struggles in North Fair Oaks. We also talked to a landlord, which was important for getting another perspective on the issue and understanding the pressure from both sides. Tony just sent us another set of eight surveys that Fidel will digitize on Monday afternoon and upload to our online map soon after. We are meeting with Tony at 9am next Tuesday at Kaffeehaus, prior to which we will send him a first draft of our Literature Review and summary of our experience visiting businesses in North Fair Oaks.
What We Observed and Learned
Like the B Street Corridor and E 3rd and 4th Avenues of downtown San Mateo, North Fair Oaks is predominantly Hispanic/Latino (>73%) which meant that most small business owners were catered to the Spanish-speaking community. Because this was our first real experience with fieldwork, the first few interactions weren’t quite as rehearsed as we would have liked, but after a few we were able to get the hang of it. As Fidel has spent a good portion of his life in Central America, he was well-suited to conversation with the owners, and a few even opened up and allowed us to record voice memos! We had conversations with the owners of Adrian’s Income Tax, Ana’s Beauty Salon, Tim’s Coin Laundry, Donut Depot, El Jarochito Taquería, and Elsa’s Beauty Salon, all of which provided us with valuable information to input into the online survey. Some of these businesses have served the community for almost 20 years and continue to employ local residents. Nearly all reported rising commercial rent, however not by an amount that wasn’t stipulated in the terms of the lease. The principal issue was loss of local clientele due to rising residential rent. The owner of Elsa’s Beauty noted that many Latino residents of North Fair Oaks and Redwood City were either moving to the East Bay or leaving California entirely. The owner of Adrian’s Income Tax argued that rent is increasing at a higher rate than salaries, which leads to people leaving the area. When people start leaving the community, businesses are affected because they start losing valuable customers. After speaking with Tim, the owner of Coin Laundry and the landlord for the building, we were able to garner a different perspective on increasing rent. He assured us that if small business owners develop a good relationship with their landlord, there is no incentive to turn the space over to different owner. The rents only rise because of business turnover and no one wants to perpetuate that situation, although the increasing rent often gets passed on to the consumer in the form of increasing prices of good and services. He argued that prices will always increase with the increasing CPI and that landlords have to charge a proportionally higher amount to offset the difference.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Next week we plan to conduct more fieldwork and digitize the data collected in the interviews this week and sent to us by Tony. Our fieldwork this week was very eye-opening. Most of the businesses we interviewed have been in North Fair Oaks for over 15 years and they are all currently suffering a loss of clientele. We are hoping to use the data we gather to really benefit the local community. Next week we hope to better prepare our interview questions since we learned that the more conversational the interviews are the more information we are able to gather. Moreover, we’ll dive more into CartoDB and see how we can use our interactive map to really show the stories of the small businesses.