For a short time in July, downtown Oakland looked like a ghost town marked by boarded-up windows and graffiti after rioters, angry at the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, swept through the area with masked faces.
But while other small businesses and shops replaced their glass and cleaned up their storefronts within a few weeks, Sears, one of the city’s biggest retailers, still looks practically abandoned almost five months later.
The big building at 1955 Broadway, which spans more than half a block, still has giant sheets of plywood over most of its windows. Almost every opening along the Telegraph Avenue side is blocked out, and the store’s cheery holiday displays on 20th Street are also half hidden by the boards.
Neighbors have spent the past few months asking the store’s managers and the city to fix the storefront, but have gotten no results.
“I walk past it every day – it’s depressing,” said Gilbert Lara, 46, who lives a block away. “It really affects the quality of life in that area because the building’s such a huge presence there.”
Sears, though, has no plans to fix the problem. Howard Riefs, a company spokesman, said that because the windows are difficult to replace, the store has no time frame for when repairs will begin and end.
“The custom windows date back to the 1930s, and replacing them is more complicated than those in a typical building,” he said.
Lara said neighbors, after hearing a similar response from Sears, went to the city for help. Under Oakland’s municipal code, inspectors can cite businesses or individuals for building code violations or blight.
Rachel Flynn, director of Oakland’s Department of Planning and Building, said the agency tries to work with property owners on a resolution before issuing citations or fees. A few months ago, she said, inspectors informed Sears that it could not have exposed and unfinished wood on its windows, prompting the store to paint the plywood.
When the city continued to get complaints about the windows, inspectors cited the business last month for general blight, Flynn said. Sears was given a month to respond to the citation with a plan to fix the issue.
“Our goal is to always to work with property owners and see what can be done and what is reasonable,” she said. “That’s what we’ll have to do.”
Lara said while no downtown business deserved to be vandalized in July, the majority of them – many small, local businesses with considerably less wealth than corporations like Sears – had taken care of their damage within a week. But almost five months later, Sears still can’t seem to get it together.
“I stopped following up because we were just getting the same answer and nothing was happening,” he said. “It feels like no one cares about this neighborhood.”
What’s not working
Issue: The windows of the Sears department store in downtown Oakland remain broken and boarded up from a protest almost five months ago.
What’s been done: Sears representatives said the windows are difficult and expensive to replace, and that they have no timeline for when repairs will begin. City officials said they’re working with Sears to reach a resolution, and have already cited them under the city’s municipal code for a blight violation. Sears officials have a month to come up with a plan to fix the windows
Who’s responsible: Howard Riefs, director of communications, Sears Holdings Corp. – Howard.Riefs@ searshc.com, (847) 286-8371. Rachel Flynn, director of Oakland’s Department of Planning and Building – RFlynn@oaklandnet.com, (510) 238-2229.