Oakland Unseen

Oakland, California's unreal news source.

“Jack White Flight”: Hipsters fleeing Oakland in record numbers

Hipster with her bag packed to leave Oakland

(image credit: Kanken Bagpacks)

Hipsters are fleeing Oakland at a record pace in a disturbing new trend nicknamed “Jack White Flight.” The latest census statistics gathered from polling data during the last election suggest that a third of Oakland’s once-thriving hipster community has left the city in the last 12 months.

Journalist Isabel Wilkerson has dubbed this trend the “New Great Migration” while others are calling it “reverse gentrification.” To probe deeper into this disturbing trend, Oakland Unseen’s Olaf Priol reached out to a number of former art students, nanobrewers, trustafarians, and volunteers at Rock, Paper, Scissors to investigate. Our respondents submitted their grievances on manual typewriters with the following comments:

  • "Fixed-gear bikes are way too mainstream when everyone in the East Bay Bike Party is riding one.”
  • "Papier-mâché masks of animals are like so 2008."
  • "Novella Carpenter sold out when she went with a corporate publisher for her book Farm City.”
  • "Art Murmur is too mainstream. I mean the NYT even covered it.”

To further investigate this, Oakland Unseen spoke with several local business owners about how this hipster flight is affecting their business.

Hipster Exodus: Its effects on Oakland’s economy

At Zebra Tattoo & Body Piercing, fewer people are coming in for ear gauging and ear lobe stretching for large disk earrings. Bob, a tribal tattoo specialist, said “On a typical Saturday I used to do 30 septum piercings, as well as earplugs, and eyebrow piercings, for girls wearing neon/mustard yellow tights. Now, I’m lucky if 5 of these hipsters come in on the weekend.”

This hipster exodus has hit Oakland’s economy hard. Jamie “Che” Smith, the bartender at Revolution Cafe said that her cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon have been gathering dust. “Just a year ago, I couldn’t order enough. Now, it looks like I’ve over-ordered because the hipsters are gone and everybody’s on this monk-crafted Belgian beer bent.”

The New Parish is hosting fewer Kickstarter fundraising parties. Other related industries that’ve taken a hit include gourmet food trucks, like The Crème Brûlée Truck (a food truck serving only Crème Brûlée), as well as many workshops and classes by local nonprofits in urban farming, pickling, and acro-yoga. “Who will go to our canning and organic kombucha-fermenting and artisan cheesemaking classes?” asked Willow, a local urban farmer. “We used to project Portlandia on the wall of the autoshop next to our garden, but now people don’t come anymore. Apparently, the dream of the ‘90s isn’t alive anymore in Oakland.”

Adam, a booking agent for the Fox Theater, told Oakland Unseen “We had a steady stream of post-funk folk groups comprised of recent liberal arts college graduates over the last few years. We’d typically see at least 5 different groups with lead mandolins and talkboxes play regularly during 2010 and 2011. But the hipsters seem to have vanished in the second half of 2012. God forbid we actually bring hip-hop groups to the Fox.”

Joshua, a third year student at CCA, said “In 2011, there was a Gotye-themed party each week. Now there’s only one every couple months.” When asked what a Gotye-themed party is, he responded, “You know, it’s when people at the party take off their shirts and paint themselves to look like the wallpaper in the Somebody That I Used To Know music video. OMG, I can’t believe you didn’t know about this.”

Other residents Oakland Unseen spoke with at an underground speakeasy in the Temescal District said, “[Oakland’s] no longer as authentic as it used to be. I mean, when I first came to Telegraph and 51st, there was no Bake Sale Betty. It’s not as gritty as it used to be. Yes, there are still a ton of murders, but it’s gotten way too good of press lately for me to live here ironically.”

Where are they moving? 

Some said Detroit, others have returned home to the Midwest, and some said they will stay local because they need to keep their tech jobs. Many hipsters Oakland Unseen spoke with said they were considering moving to the recently vacated warehouses near the Richmond Refinery, the radioactive neighborhoods of Treasure Island, or the vacant shacks in the Bay Area’s marshland ghost town, Drawbridge, California.

Who’s displacing these hipsters?

A person familiar with the Urban Strategies report “State of Bay Area Hipsters: A Look at Hipster Population Trends in the Bay Area, Part I” said that many low-income people of color are uprooting these established hipsters, and if not reversed, this trend could have long-lasting implications on the city.

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a 3-part series by award-winning investigative British journalist Olaf Priol. This groundbreaking series is Pulitzer-eligible.

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