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Crosscurrents
Crosscurrents is our award-winning radio news magazine, broadcasting Mondays through Thursdays at 11 a.m. on 91.7 FM. We make joyful, informative stories that engage people across the economic, social, and cultural divides in our community. Listen to full episodes at kalw.org/crosscurrents

An Oakland corner store owner struggles to find home in his changing neighborhood.

Antar Behind the Counter at Northside Supermarket
Alia Taqieddin
Antar Behind the Counter at Northside Supermarket

In Oakland, everyone has their go-to corner store. Reporter Alia Taqieddin sure does. But she found out her local corner store owner is grappling with a question she also faces: about where to find home. Alia brings us this latest story in our “At Work” series.

Northside Supermarket is my local corner store. It’s on the corner of a busy intersection in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood. Right when you walk inside, there’s a big wrap-around counter, a cash register and you might not notice it but there’s a ladder leading into a hidden enclosure. More on this later.

Behind the counter I greet Antar, who runs the store.

He’s bantering about inventory with his brother Mohammad and their uncle Sam. When they talk, they switch back and forth easily from English to Arabic.

I moved to this neighborhood from my hometown of Seattle a year ago. It can get hard being far from family-- but this store’s always felt familiar to me: another family throwing around words in Arabic and English while I'm buying my hot cheetos.

Aisles in Northside Market
Alia Taqieddin
Aisles in Northside Market

Antar and his brothers Mohammad and Abraham inherited the shop from their dad Yahya. They’re friends with many of the customers, like regular Tom Banks. He’s lived in the neighborhood for 62 years.

Like a lot of long-time customers here, Banks has come by the store almost every day for years and has watched Antar grow up. He’s known him since he was born.

The energy inside the market today is really light-spirited. But the truth is that Temescal, and the market’s regulars, have been changing a lot over the last few years.

For Antar and his family though, they’re pretty used to adapting to change. His parents were born and raised in a rural part of Yemen called Ibb.

They were all farmers. They had their own land, so they grew on their land,” Antar explains. “ I think my dad said he used to have 20 camels.”

Then in the 1980s, his dad and mom, Suad, immigrated to California with extended family. At first, they went to Fresno to work on farms. But then they moved to the Bay Area.

Antar says that when Oakland was “rough and tough, nobody wanted the stores anymore, so they bought 'em for dirt cheap and then they stuck through it. And that's how we ended up here.”

Antar’s dad and uncles bought the store in 1985, and Antar was born four years later. As a kid, the back room of the shop was like his playground.

“This used to be my bike shop,” Antar shares. As a kid, he used to work on his bikes here, hide stuff in the back room, and was even caught back there smoking weed once. “I literally spent more time here than I've ever spent at home.”

The Corner of 45th and Market
Alia Taqieddin
The Corner of 45th and Market

Antar gives me a tour of the shop.

“You see we have that up there?”

Remember that ladder behind the counter that I mentioned? It leads to a loft above the front door. “We used to call it the gun tower,” he says, “because we used to keep a big AK up there. And this was back in the ‘90s. I remember seeing that gun as a kid and they wouldn't let me go up there alone.”

Antar tells me in the ‘90s, every store had some extra protection.

What do you use it for now?” I ask him. He immediately replies with “Napping. We'd be napping, playing games up there. I had a long night and I needed to crash– go up there and crash for a couple hours.”

Now there’s some blankets and cushions, cigarette butts on the ground and even a playstation. Back in those days, it didn’t actually feel unsafe to Antar because everybody knew everybody and looked out for each other. Growing up, all his friends in the neighborhood had an open door policy and they used to run back and forth from each other’s houses.

“It'd be a thousand kids like everywhere and it'd be parents and people and arguments and happiness and everything, so it was always a community,” he reminisces. “Now, just, it feels less like a community and more just like, you know, homes. People are just living here.”

That’s starting to make Antar think twice about keeping the shop. There’s another element here; one that I really relate to. Recently, Antar visited his extended family in Yemen for the first time since COVID started. And that sense of community he’d lost in Oakland, he found there.

In his opinion, “people are more friendly, I think, than America. Wherever you're at, you'll meet somebody, you'll make a friend and they'll always remember you. You know what I mean? Here, everybody's busy hustling and bustling, you know, nobody got time.”

Recently, Antar’s dad has been pressuring him and his brothers to sell the shop, especially after atragic shooting at a nearby corner store called The River Nile,

“All that stuff that was going on, the robberies in Oakland, and then the River Nile thing and all that, it just keeps accumulating,” he shares. Antar says his dad told him, “Let's just sail, man. Let's get out of the business while you guys are okay. We don't need it.”

When he was in the Middle East, Antar fantasized about changing course and living closer to his family.

“I was like,maybe I could retire here one day. It's so cheap too. You know, you could stretch your money and just live out there,” he says. “But I love the Bay. There's nothing like the Bay, Oakland. It's home.”

Antar’s like a lot of us who have our lives split in two parts of the world. The question of where do I end up? can be too hard or painful to answer, so we just put off thinking about it. And for Antar, the answer to that question doesn’t just impact him. It’s a question about what happens to the Northside Market and the community who depends on it.

As he’s closing up the store for the night, Antar tells me he can’t imagine life without this place. “It's not really a job, it's just something that’s always been a part of my life and I've always done it. Every time we get ready to sell, I be like, ‘I can't sell, man.’ Somebody sell it for me. I can’t sign off on it.”

Northside isn’t closing any time soon. If you stop by, you can still find Antar behind the counter or restocking shelves. He’s not ready to leave the Bay yet. For now, he’s just living with the questions.

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Alia is a Seattle-raised, Oakland-based cultural worker, DJ, and community archivist, inspired by and belonging to a lineage of Palestinian and Arab women storytellers. She is interested in documenting the histories and contributions of West Asian and North African immigrant communities in the Bay Area. Alia's past audio work can be found in the Arab American National Museum, which houses her multimedia oral history archive of Dearborn, Michigan. In her free time, Alia enjoys hosting her monthly online radio show, Kan Ya Makan, on Moonglow Radio, and DJing various SWANA (Southwest Asian/North African) dance parties in the Bay Area.