Chelsea and Leonard Charles

Listen to the Charles’ interview!

Chelsea and Leonard are the owners of the famous One Stop Liquor, one of the last black-owned liquor stores left in East Oakland and an incredible asset to its surrounding community. Leonard, who describes himself as an “Oaklandite,” and his family have owned One Stop Liquor since 1971. Originally from Louisiana, his family came to lay down roots in Oakland in the 1940s. Chelsea’s family line stems from Houston, Texas, and she has lived in Oakland for about 30 years. Chelsea is a generous person who likes to give back to the community, whether it be through volunteering or choreographing cotillions.

Chelsea and Leonard have seen Oakland transform over the years and have noticed that it is tougher for the newer generations of residents. Leonard recalls being able to safely hang by a local Taco Bell in the early morning hours, while Chelsea vividly remembers the New Age, a teenage club that existed in downtown Oakland. Although, there is still a great diversity in East Oakland, there is a lack of attractions and safety for young people to actually have richer experiences in there. Chelsea recounts having to keep her children busy by taking them to attractions out of town. Chelsea and Leonard are concerned that their children may hang out with the wrong crowd if they are not continuously stimulated.

Gentrification is another top concern for Chelsea and Leonard, who see it as a real threat to existing East Oakland residents. Leonard knows people that have lost their homes to the development near the Coliseum BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station. These were people who rented to low-income families and had their property taken from them rather than involving them in the project. Chelsea sees gentrification as a means of “weeding out” people—a way of devaluing poorer residents and of avoiding having to fix the existing problems in East Oakland. Chelsea gives the sage advice that if you own property, keep it. When people come into your neighborhood buying up homes, she says, it’s a sign that change is coming.

Even though East Oakland has several issues, Chelsea and Leonard do their best to support their community in any way they can. One Stop Liquor has joined HOPE Collaborative to offer groceries at their store, and they even started a lottery in time for Christmas. Customers can buy groceries and be entered in the lottery to win a bicycle. Not only do they work to be an asset to their customers, the Charles also support their staff, for instance by someone out if they are short on money for an electricity bill. Chelsea and Leonard have shaped their business to be a true asset to East Oakland, and their business is an example for how businesses can positively impact Oaklanders.