I’ve already done most of my Christmas shopping and I’ve done it in Oakland. I bought books at one of our wonderful independent bookstores, the usual socks and underwear for my grown kids, small electronics, flower bulbs for homemade gifts, soaps, fun stocking stuffers, jewelry, and clothing.

I may wander to Emeryville occasionally but I don’t get out to the malls. I consider it one of the privileges of living in an urban environment that I don’t hang out at stuffy places where I can’t find my car, all the shops look the same, and piped in music blasts along with the piped in air. What is an Olive Garden after all? I’ve yet to eat their “homemade” garlic bread.

“There’s no place to shop in Oakland” is just a variant on the tired old theme of “there’s no there there” written by Gertrude Stein in reference to our little city. While Stein only meant that her childhood home had been torn down, naysayers have used it to describe our lack of a downtown, for one thing. But the members of the Oakland Merchant Leadership Forum (OMLF) —who gathered one early morning recently to kick off this year’s Shop Oakland Campaign—can tell you what’s really there in their neighborhood commercial districts.

Remember to check the OMLF official calendar at omlf.org. You’ll find upcoming (sorry, some have already concluded) holiday festivities from the new scene on 17th Street in downtown Oakland, strolls of Santa and carolers in Montclair and the Laurel, Piedmont, Dimond, to name some more. Santa gets around in Oakland seeking to fulfill the wishes of many of our good townsfolk.

And on Lakeshore and Lake Park Avenues, we’ll be visited twice by Santa and Dickens’ olde Christmas Carolers (aka Opera Piccola) first on Sunday, December 17th, and also on Saturday, the 23rd, from 1 to 3 PM. Please join us and sing along, collecting a candy cane from Santa if you’ve been good or even if you haven’t. Be of good cheer!

As for me… as a former merchant and a merchant advocate, I wish for a more attentive city administration. For the past few decades since I first moved to Oakland, I have watched us pour *#%*loads of money down the craw of our insatiable downtown, out-of-town promoters to almost no effect.

I blame not only the powers that be, were, and would-be, but also our citizens, who demand a fantasy perfect downtown with quaint little streets and big box stores side-by-side, lots of free parking (but no unsightly lots), elegant residential buildings interspersed with whisper-quiet nightclubs and spic and span sidewalks. Walt Disney was more realistic. “It’s a debate for another time,” with apologies and acknowledgement to Jesse Allen-Taylor, about how to make some of this happen and why some will not happen. Meantime, our little neighborhood mom ‘n pops, alongside some of our more neighborhood-friendly chains, struggle along, trying to make it on their own.

No mayor yet has cared much what happens to our little neighborhood hubs, the places where we really live, meet, catch up and just hang out with our neighbors. I have a hunch the new one will. But remember, we’re still handing out paychecks to the old one—the one who cut the Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization Department more than any other, who refused to staff the Oakland Merchant Leadership Forum, and who never heard of the Main Street Revitalization Movement.

My wish is that Oakland will begin to put its precious citizen resources back into its neighborhoods—all of them. And by-the-way, schools are a vital part of those neighborhoods. So other than peace on earth and good will to all creatures, that’s my little wish for many new years to come.