Commercial real estate developers Ben and Richard Weinstein don’t take a political view of their work. If they’ve managed to avoid a lot of the anti-gentrification scorn that gets heaped on developers, it’s not because they’ve set out to distinguish themselves as altruistic. The reason Weinstein Commercial Real Estate has done well in Oakland is a matter of taste.
“We think about what kinds of establishments we want to see around the corner and what kinds of places just won’t add anything,” said Richard. They said they get excited by distinctive projects led by interesting people who will make great tenants, like the guys at Stag’s, the pair behind Flora and the team behind Flight Deck. Richard and Ben are proud to house some of your favorite spots in Oakland.
In order to make my way into their office building on 15th and Broadway, I had to get past a few people hugging and greeting each other on the sidewalk like old friends reunited. Only once the group followed me into the building did I realize it was Richard Weinstein and West Oakland’s own Abeni Ramsey, of City Girl Farm. Abeni and her business partner are the Weinstein’s new tenants right down the block on 15th street with their soon-to-launch restaurant Township.
Before we got started with the interview, another tenant/neighbor wandered into the building explaining to Ben that he just came to chat. I assume this kind of environment is what they’re referring to when they fondly describe a sense of neighborly community.
“It’s not that we’re above doing a Starbucks,” said Richard, “but [big national chains] are much harder to work with and much less interesting.” He says the Weinstein’s biggest skill is tenanting, or the intuitive process by which they decide who to work with on a person-by-person basis. It takes a bit of business acumen and a bit of market analysis to predict if a venture will thrive or flop, but more than this, Richard says, they go with their gut when choosing partnerships.
“Ideally, the business is around forever,” he says, “so these relationships are long-term.”
WCRE recently formed a partnership with Pop Up Hood for an incubator-like project on 17th and Webster. The incubator will house several independent pop-up ventures at a discounted rent.
They don’t see this as a values-driven project. “It’s an easy sell for us because it’s low risk,” said Ben, “either the businesses expand out or they fail to take off, in which case the loss is a portion of a few months of the total rent.”