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Emeryville: The Little City That Did!

By Evalee Harrison and Craig Harrison


On most maps it's the size of a postage stamp, wedged between Berkeley on the east, the Bay Bridge and Oakland to its south, and the San Francisco Bay to its west. Yet Emeryville has emerged from its neighbors' shadows to be a shining city in its own right, a bustling commerce center with an identity and image all its own. It's time you learn about the Bay Area's central city.


Incorporated a little over a hundred years ago, Emerville took its name from Industrialist John Emery. Traditionally Emeryville was a town of heavy industry and gaming. While Berkeley boasted the first University of California, and Oakland was known for the mystique of Jack London’s haunts, the 1.8 square miles that make up Emeryville were a well-kept secret.


But now, in 2001, all that has changed. Emeryville represents a new type of city, not beholden to any one company or industry, combining high tech and biotech with retail, service and residential interests, a culturally rich community in the epicenter of the booming San Francisco Bay Area.



Traditionally an industrial town with steel, machinery and mechanized equipment companies, Emeryville now boasts biotechnology companies such as Chiron, Internet start-ups such as SendMail, newer technology tigers like Siebel Systems and established companies like Pixar Animation Studios and even Berkeley Farms. While the longtime database resident Sybase is moving eastward, other tech companies are hot to fill its spaces.


Lofty Intentions

Emeryville appeals to high tech companies on several levels.Its proximity to the University of California (at Berkeley) insures a steady stream of educated talent, while its distance from traditional Silicon Valley translates into less expensive housing costs.While thousands of workers come to Emeryville each day, some 7,000 actually reside in Emeryville by night. Part of the appeal for professionals: the lofts and industrial style space available for living and work-space sites. Artists too are attracted to this mix of warehouses and space. Those intent on a bayfront views prefer condominiums on the west side of the Freeway.


Catching Business by the Retail

Emeryville has gradually become a thriving retail mecca. In 2000 the first IKEA, a 200,000 square foot furniture superstore in Northern California, opened to a tremendous reception. With several shopping complexes and name chains such as The Good Guys, Circuit City, The Men’s Wearhouse, CompUSA, Tower Records, Borders, Home Depot, OfficeMax, K-Mart, Toys R Us and Trader Joe’s, shoppers come from all directions to buy.  Plans are underway to bring higher-end retailers of the caliber of Nordstrom to town.



Emeryville’s entertainment attractions are growing too. Whether you seek live music at Kimball’s East Jazz Club, choose from one of the United Artists 10 movies at Emery Bay, prefer ballroom dancing or classes at Allegro Ballroom or the San Francisco Ballroom Dance Theatre School, a batting cage or slam dunk hoops at Triple Play USA or indoor rock climbing, Emeryville’s got it!



For such a small city Emeryville residents and visitors have ample choices for traversing its flat terrain. A new Amtrak station brings many San Francisco bound travelers from across the United States. Emeryville is served by Alameda County (AC) Transit buses, and also boasts a free shuttle, the Emery-Go-Round, which takes riders from MacArthur BART in Oakland to Emeryville’s various employers and retailers.  With its own marina, visitors and residents even arrive by the Bay.


Stops, Starts and Stays

Emeryville’s recent popularity is actually straining its city streets: and despite some parking and traffic enhancements gridlock occurs regularly.  Pedestrians, in particular, need to develop a quick step and walking skills to negotiate intersections.


For a time, commuters saw all too much of Emeryville as their trips westbound on I-580 ground to a standstill approaching the infamous 580-880 split at the East Bay Bridge. Although the adding of a new lane to southbound I-880 at Emeryville’s Powell Street exit has helped, it’s still a problematic stretch of roadway.  Work on the Ashby Avenue exit at the North end of town will facilitate increased throughput in the coming years.


For those intent on staying in Emeryville, the options are growing by the month. Already served by a Holiday Inn, and Four Points Sheraton, brand new hotels which opened in 2000 include the Courtyard by Marriott and plush Woodfin Suites. A Hilton Hotel is also coming soon.


For the Love of Business

It’s been said Emeryville never met a development it didn’t like. With the lowest tax rates in northern Alameda County it sees itself as the most practical of choices for businesses. According to Mayor Dick Kassis, himself a 27-year resident of Emeryville: “Synergy, atmosphere and environment are easier to create in a small city. Just getting on the agenda with a city council in some towns can be a challenge. Emeryville is able to move much quicker.”

In contrasting the process with other larger cities, Kassis notes “one bonus of dealing with Emeryville: you can deal with city council members, not staff members. Our attitude and atmosphere are aligned in Emeryville. Here you can roll up your sleeves and work with the community. Our message is "Businesses welcomed."

Back to School for the Basics

With Emeryville’s business booming, more attention will rightly be paid to investing in improving its school system’s performance. The city’s infrastructure also requires attention. With growth come job opportunities. The police department, in particular, seeks law enforcement candidates as their duties have expanded with increased numbers of visitors, residents and growth.


Emery Will

The future is bright for Emeryville, for employers, employees and commerce. The Bay Area’s central city will surely benefit from the overall growth of the region, while also spearheading its own expansion. Emeryville is no longer the little city that could, but the little town that IS.


Evalee Harrison is a consumer health journalist specializing in onsite health promotion. She can be reached at (510) 654-6722 or via e-mail: HMI_Evalee@politicslight.com.


Craig Harrison is a professional speaker and corporate trainer who makes communication and customer service fun and easy. He can be reached at (510) 547-0664 or through his website: www.ExpressionsofExcellence.com.