–Published on OaklandNorth.net on September 22, 2011–

 

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By Wednesday night, Sam Worth, 20, had loaded almost all of the remaining wood from the deconstructed skate park into the back of his truck— a white 1995 Ford pickup that he borrowed from his father. It took him over a month to build the skate park, but only 12 days to take it apart.

“It was great while it lasted,” he said, heaving an armful of the well-worn boards onto the bed of the truck and stacking them neatly against the side. “But in the end, we couldn’t make the $7,000 rent.”

Once he’s finished loading the car, he’ll head east on the CA-24 to his parents’ house in Orinda, where he’ll add this batch to the heaps of wood already piled on the front lawn.

For now, he plans to keep the wood, one of the last remaining relics of his brief but enjoyable stint as the owner of Hooper Vintage Skateboards and Chocolates, which closed last month.

In early 2011,Worth signed a lease to rent the long-vacant Hooper’s Chocolate Shop on Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland. It had everything he was looking for: a great location, tons of space, and a unique interior.  But despite his best efforts, the store was plagued with financial difficulties.

“We were doing very well for a start-up business, and we were making about $5,000 a month,” he said. “But there was the overhead in the end, and the rent which is $7,000. We just weren’t able to make it.”

Worth originally paid for the shop with help from his parents, as well as paychecks he saved from his former job as a wrestling coach at his alma mater, Miramonte High School. But those funds were quickly used up. It turned out that the building was not only charming and antiquated, but defunct, too.

“It needed more work than I thought,” he said. Worth estimates that he spent over $6,000 repairing the aging facility: painting the walls, patching the ceiling, putting in new flooring, and replacing the plumbing and electricity.

The building also had another surprise: it was encrusted in chocolate.

“It was just all over the place— a couple millimeters thick layer of chocolate on the ground, practically everywhere,” he said. “It was just gross.”  When he first tried skateboarding in the building, he said, there would be “a roll of chocolate just caked underneath the wheels.”

Worth, who has been skateboarding since he was ten, had fantasized about opening his own skateboard shop after graduating from high school two years ago. The shop, he dreamed, would not only be the place to launch Fancy Boards, his line of skateboards decorated with “classy,” hand-drawn images of tea cups, flowers, and abstract designs, but it would also be a means of changing society’s negative view of skateboarding.

“Skate culture nowadays is real greasy, hardcore, and rock and roll, and there’s sort of a rough image of skateboarders,” he said.

One of the ways Worth sought to change this perception was by using the store for purposes other than skateboarding. In addition to the retail area, which sold skateboards, skateboard equipment, apparel, and footwear, Hooper Vintage Skateboards and Chocolates also had an art gallery, a lounge area with a big-screen television to show skateboarding movies, and a not-so secret 3,000 square foot skate park in a back room.

It didn’t take long for the community to fall in love with the shop. “All these kids from all different areas would come to Hooper every single day after school and just hang out in the lounge and watch the theater,” he said.  “It’s a great place for kids and they all became friends. They’re all friends today, and when I check my Facebook it’s interesting to see how they’ve interacted with each other.”

As an homage to the shop’s namesake, Hooper’s Chocolate, the store also sold chocolate from a San Francisco chocolatier, Masterpiece Fudge by Z. Cioccolato.

In fact, the chocolates turned out to be the new Hooper’s best-selling product.

“Chocolate is a very lucrative business, and I would say it is more lucrative than skateboarding,” Worth said. “Skateboarding is who we are, but our chocolate sales were way more than anything.”

Since the store’s closure in August, Worth has heard from a number of customers who miss the beloved shop.

“I’ve been getting phone calls like crazy from people asking when it’s going to come back,” he said.  “People were telling me they were having the times of their lives at Hooper.”

But this is not the end of Worth’s business endeavors. The store failed, he said, not because he did not make enough sales, but because he was renting a space that was too big. The building, which cost $7,000 a month to rent, was 21,000 square feet— a luxury that Worth said was nice, but unnecessary.

Now wiser and more experienced, he has rented out a smaller and more affordable office and warehouse space near Lake Merritt. For now, the new space will be closed to the public and serve primarily as the headquarters for Worth’s soon-to-be launched website selling his line, Fancy Boards, and the remaining merchandise from the store.

“I think it will be even better because there will be less room and we’ll actually be able to profit in the end,” he said.

In the future, Worth plans on expanding his inventory to include more apparel and footwear.

He also hopes to rebuild the skate park someday.

“It was amazing skateboarding on it,” he said. “And if I can reuse the wood, I’ll probably rebuild it again.”