Orinda Business Climate No Longer Declining

Caroline Cook

Although business establishments in Orinda have a history of going under, recent events suggest that the business climate is on the rise. In order to understand the past decline of Orinda establishments, we must take into account the problems of doing business in Orinda: a lack of visibility and parking in Theatre Square, Orinda’s General Plan, and the community demographics.
If the people of Orinda want local businesses to survive, then they must support them. One such opportunity of support presented itself as The Republic of Cake, a cupcake bakery, opened up in Theatre Square. Just as Peter Parker shot a blast of web and swung through the air to catch a falling Mary Jane Watson, Republic of Cake owners, Peter McNiff and Chih-Chung Fang, have caught Theatre Square and are trying to prevent her from hitting the pavement.
What sets this bakery apart from other businesses in Orinda is the plan of the owners to cater to the community’s demographic. Often times, teens are frustrated with the ever-vacant Theatre Square and overall lack of local entertainment, causing them to give up and hop on the freeway to Walnut Creek to quench their entertainment fix.
Although McNiff and Fang feel confident in their business’ ability to survive, we must ask ourselves; Why wouldn’t a terrific product succeed in Orinda?
First of all, many suburban drivers prefer to park directly out in front of their destinations rather than endure the numerous perils of walking less than a block, or crossing the street. Due to the lack of available parking in the downtown area, most Orindians are deprived of this luxury and shudder at the idea of this slight inconvenience.
In addition, the architectural design of Theatre Square makes it hostile to commercial enterprise. Businesses in the Square face inward; away from the street. As a result, passing drivers and pedestrians are unable to see what venues exist inside.
Frequent disregard of the one-hour limit for scarce parking spaces is another factor contributing to both local and visiting drivers giving up on Theatre Square, and hopping on the freeway to Walnut Creek.  Rather than rabid police enforcement of the one-hour limit, a more plausible solution would be for the police to monitor prime parking areas for violations of the time limit.
Next, Orinda’s General Plan only allows certain types of businesses to open up. The plan state that in downtown Orinda new commercial development shall be limited to providing goods and services for local use and other small specialty retail stores. In addition, new office development must be limited to offices generally supporting local residents and businesses.
Additionally, any business considering locating in Orinda must understand the demographics of the community. According to the Bay Area Census of 2000, 55% of Orinda’s consumers are between the ages of 18-64. The next largest group of consumers is made up of 5-17 year-olds who comprise 20% of the town’s population.
Because the primary consumers of the town are parents and their children, businesses must be equipped with a strategy of how to cater to this audience.
“Our strategy is that we have to understand that this town revolves around the schools and the youth,” said McNiff. “You can’t expect a franchise to plop down and be instantly welcomed by the community. For example, High Tech Burrito in Theatre Square didn’t have any tie to this community.”
Finally, people who want interesting, creative, and high-quality products and services must take it upon themselves to support them. “If you want local businesses to support you, then you have to be able to support them,” McNiff concluded.
McNiff’s business strategies will be put to the test at the grand opening of The Republic of Cake on Dec. 12. The Republic of Cake is located on the main level of Theatre Square.