Retail in Oakland: a conversation with Viscera's founder Ari Takata-Vasquez

Meet Ari: artist, designer, creative director and founder of Viscera

Viscera: A brick and mortar in Downtown Oakland

I opened the shop in 2014 with the idea that a store would be an interesting way to explore all the different creative avenues I am interested in. This idea that I could start a shop where the visual pieces are done in house—from graphics, photography, a lot of the product, and the store design.

While I was in grad school, I studied city planning and focused on urban planning I did my thesis on downtown’s open space. In one class, I looked at affordable care acts on downtown Oakland’s economy. One thing that struck me is we lose so much retail money. We have the biggest retail leakage. People who live in Oakland aren’t spending their money in Oakland—they’re spending it in San Francisco, in Walnut Creek, Emeryville and that’s bonkers to me. We lose 2 billion dollars—that’s 2 billion dollars that could be circulating in our economy, helping to create jobs. 

Why Oakland?

Oakland has a mix of people who are really excited about what they’re doing and sort of going to do it for themselves even if there aren’t the systems in place for that. Art Murmur is a good example of that idea that we’re going to make it happen for ourselves and not wait for the city to do this for us. The scrappiness is what draws me to downtown.

Stores act as pseudo public spaces. When you got to a new city, you stroll around and if you have a nice person in the shop you say where do you go and explore, what do you like and they’re your tour guides. 

Downtown Oakland's Creative Future.

People need to realize small business isn’t a given, you have to choose to support. We’re typically not as convenient, and more expensive but we’re more expensive in just dollars, no in external costs. If you’re a creative person who ever wants to make money off of your work, you have to support the places that share that work and craft. 

Yes, we could be an e Commerce, but the physical location is so important to Downtown Oakland. If I close, it’s not going to be another indie retailer it’s going to be a national chain. We have something like 4-5 cranes with ground floor retail, but none of them are suited for small business, so that’s one-way design and physical space impact what happens downtown. We have to hold onto what we have now because it’s not going to come back. But it’s hopeful, Downtown Oakland makes things happen for itself. Historically we’re a place that doesn’t give up. Local resilience is kind of a motto.


I basically just walk everywhere. I don't leave downtown which forces you to get a really intimate knowledge of a place. I can literally see a picture of anywhere downtown and know what street that’s one. So having that tactile memory of being somewhere with a visual is really inspiring. It’s people though, that are the most inspiring. Being in the shop, and having people ask to buy a card, and then you talk to them and you find out they have all these interests and it a humanizing process of meeting the real person with a storyline and that’s really interesting.


I collaborate a lot in the shop. I work with a lot of small makers who are independent who care about what they’re doing. I also host pop-ups in the shop, so that smaller brands who need one on one, maybe they’re e-commerce but based in Oakland and need more one on one time with their customers.

Before I opened the store, I threw a business owner brunch and said “let’s all pull together” so we all know each other now so we message through out the day sometimes and stay in touch. And we send each other clients. We choose to be collaborative, rather than competitive


So some of the clothes I made here in the shop, and the rest of the stuff, I live in a live/work unit near Preservation Park. So I’ve been trying to separate the art and making as work and making for fun. Because that can get stressful when I think “this is dollars” while painting. So I do my paintings and sculptures at home. It’s new that I bring them here to share because it’s so vulnerable. So I have a little desk with all my different mediums.


I have a piece up at The Heart is Oakland at Classic Cars West which was a collaboration. It’s nice to put it out there when you know it’s for a good cause. Digitally too - sometimes you get doubtful and sometimes it’s nice to snap a picture and share on Instagram to see if people like it.