Laurel’s Mischief gives local BIPOC artists a special place

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As a child, Don Johnson cycled up and down MacArthur Boulevard in the Laurel neighborhood of Oakland. He was going back and forth between the house of his family and that of his relatives, who all lived for a time in the neighborhood. Along the way, he would greet the employees of Lan’s Hair Style & Nail Care, or stop at 1 Seafood & Chicken for a quick bite. “People there say they remember when I was a kid and they used to visit me,” Johnson said.

Lan’s Hair Style & Nail Care is directly across from Mischief, a gift shop that Johnson and his wife Tiffany now own and run. The shop, which former owners Lauren and Julien Shields opened in 2017, sells specialty products handmade by more than 100 Bay Area-based artists, including greeting cards, planters, t-shirts , jewellery, illustrations, children’s books, etc.

The Oaklandside visited Mischief on a Tuesday when the store is closed. Nonetheless, a passerby walked into the store and asked Johnson about a pencil-themed hanger nailed to the wall they had spotted through the window. Johnson happily helped the potential customer by trying to remove the hanger, but couldn’t find his screwdriver. The client suggested trying to use a pair of scissors that lay on the counter, and Johnson used the scissors to slowly and patiently unscrew each nail. He even gave the nails to his client, free of charge.

“You never know what a person is going to like until they see it, and that’s what’s cool about this store,” Johnson said. “It’s important for everyone to find unique gifts to give to friends and family, and we want everyone to feel welcome in this space as well.”

‘Out of frame’

Inside Mischief, a gift shop located in the Laurel neighborhood of Oakland. Credit: Amir Aziz

Johnson doesn’t remember which business was there when he was a kid, but he told The Oaklandside he always wanted to own an establishment in this neighborhood. “I’ve always wanted to be self-employed because I’m an entrepreneur,” he said.

Johnson and his wife Tiffany have day jobs in addition to running the store full time. She is an educator and teaches in the Oakland Unified School District, while Johnson works in the Bay Area music industry under the artist name Don P and as a music artist manager. The couple launched their own line of greeting cards, Paper & Scissor Design, and create playful cards with quirky designs drawn by Tiffany and phrases imagined by Johnson.

The couple have sold their cards at the store since its inception and reached out to previous owners via Instagram asking them to sell there. In June 2020, the Shields announced that they would be pulling out of Mischief and turning ownership over to Tiffany and Johnson. “They are super talented, hardworking, very nice and generally amazing people. Also Don [Johnson] grew up a block from the store so it really seems meant to be,” the Shields wrote in a statement they posted on Facebook and sent to newsletter subscribers.

For Johnson, owning Mischief was a dream come true. He had tried to open a shoe store in Laurel years ago, but there was no storefront available at the time. “I think it’s a good example for young homies to understand that you can do things that are out of the box and different from what people might expect you to do,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Tiffany manage day-to-day operations and oversee all aspects of store management. They often meet designers through social media or referrals from mutual friends.

“The upside is you have someone to talk to about the business even when you’re not at work, but that’s also the downside,” Johnson said. Still, there’s no one else he’d rather run the shop with than Tiffany. “She’s such a good artist, very pragmatic, and she can understand everything; she’s just super cool like that,” he said.

In addition to Mischief and their day jobs, the couple are also raising their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and a newborn, born Feb. 22, 2022, or 2/2/22.

Deepening Community in Laurel

Outside Mischief, a shop on MacArthur Boulevard. The store features handmade products by more than 100 Bay Area-based artists. Credit: Amir Aziz

Two years after leading Mischief, Johnson feels even prouder to be part of the small business community that makes up their stretch of MacArthur Boulevard. “The cool thing about Laurel is that people from all over town come and converge,” Johnson said.

He especially enjoys the holiday events that take place in the neighborhood. “People have come together [last month] to have a Chinese New Year festival, and I love that the community comes together for things like that.

Last December, Mischief participated in the Santa Stroll, an event hosted by the Laurel District Association where neighborhood stores host someone dressed as Santa and kids can meet him. Johnson and Tiffany hosted Santa in the back space of Mischief, and the kids got to participate in a Christmas ornament-making workshop.

The turnout, Johnson says, surprised him. “I had no idea there would be so many people coming to see Santa Claus that day, it was crazy,” he said. “Even the mayor [Libby Schaaf] came over and bought a few things.

During the pandemic, Mischief has been hosting creative workshops online on crafts like embroidery, making collages for kids, and even making reusable food wraps using fabric and melted beeswax. .

As a kid growing up in Laurel, Johnson doesn’t recall these kinds of events or opportunities being available, not that they didn’t have fun anyway. He would cycle in search of fruit to pick from the trees, or hop on the bus with friends and head to nearby Dimond Park to swim in the community pool. He and the other kids in the neighborhood also played basketball at a local college after hours. “That whole neighborhood was always cool because you could just hang out and not have to worry about a lot of drama,” Johnson said.

With Mischief, Johnson and his wife seek to expand the creative opportunities available to children and local artists. The couple are currently working on plans to renovate their back space and start hosting more in-person workshops and artist networking events. The day after Santa Stroll, Mischief held a craft fair for young people, and Johnson said the kids went to work setting up their booth and wares.

“These children sold a lot of things, I was shocked; they made a lot of money,” Johnson said. “We want people to come here and do things like this, and be inspired to be an entrepreneur.”

A shop that shines all kinds of artists and creators

An assortment of handmade products featured at Mischief. Credit: Amir Aziz

Since taking over the shop, the couple have continued to make Mischief a welcoming space for customers, while nurturing relationships with longtime Mischief artists like Laurel-based graphic designer Gillian Dreher.

Dreher, a friend of the former owners, has been selling her vibrant, colorful illustrations of everyday people since Mischief opened five years ago. She began stocking prints at the store at the request of her friends and continues to sell her wares there due to her respect for Tiffany and Johnson. “I’m really impressed with her [Tiffany]and I love the attitude she brings to the store,” Dreher said.

Dreher initially expected the couple to make significant changes to the store. “People usually like to mix it up, but they made this really good addition instead of completely knocking it out,” Dreher said. “I feel like with Mischief they go beyond shopping trends and focus on what the community needs and loves.”

Selling what they love has naturally brought more works from BIPOC creators into the store. “When it comes to mixing demographics and making sure things are diverse, it comes to us pretty easily because that’s who we are,” Johnson said.

Handcrafted jewelry made by Athenia Teng from Two Roots boutique. Credit: Amir Aziz

Athenia Teng, an Oakland-based therapist and owner of jewelry line Two Roots Shop, said the store’s offerings made her feel like “a part of me is part of this community,” Teng said. “Sometimes when I post on IG about being in Mischief, other artists respond and say, ‘I’m here too,’ and it helps me connect with other people.”

Teng has lived in Oakland for 12 years and worked as a therapist since 2017, but was previously a graphic designer. Making her unique jewelry pieces with geometric shapes gives her a nice respite from her job, because “you talk about a lot of difficult things,” Teng said. She’s been selling her jewelry at Mischief since late 2020. “I’m personally very interested in supporting BIPOC businesses, whether it’s with my own money or with my work,” she said.

Demetris Washington, who prefers to call himself BAMR – “Becoming A Man Righteously” – is friends with Johnson and works with him because he knows how to work with artists and support them. “You could tell the guy is a popular person because you have to deal with so many different types of people who put this kind of store together,” BAMR said.

BAMR is a Sacramento-based muralist and designer famous for his giant Black Lives Matter mural outside Sacramento City Hall and has deep family roots in East Oakland. He hosted a pop-up at Mischief in late 2020, selling intricately designed rolling trays. One of the main reasons he associates himself with Johnson and Tiffany is that he feels they value his art and encourage him to value it as well. “Someone came to buy the trays. I asked them, ‘How much would you pay for this?’ and they said they would pay $100,” Johnson said. “I told BAMR never to belittle his art because he’s an amazing artist.”

Children’s picture books written by Jesse Byrd, an Oakland-raised book author. Credit: Amir Aziz

Jesse Byrd, an Oakland-raised children’s picture book author, said having a local outlet for his work was crucial to his sales. “Customers can browse the pages of your books, they can ask the owner questions about the author,” Byrd said, “and having a physical presence in stores is especially important in children’s picture books because sales of children’s books still depend primarily on physical sales.”

Byrd’s most popular books, such as “Sunny Day” and “King Penguin,” often feature black characters because, Byrd says, he wants to help establish much-needed representation in the black children’s book space. Less than 50% of these books are written by African American authors.

He believes his mission to foster black representation through self-ownership is consistent with Mischief’s philosophy. “When you own your own thing, you have more say in how you want to serve people,” Byrd said, “and that’s what I admire about [Johnson and Tiffany].”

Mischief is at 3908 MacArthur Blvd. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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