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Amelia Marshall’s Blog: What Can I Say?

Opinion, Horses, History, Real Estate, Astronomy, Traditional Music, and Politics

The Workingman’s Stores

916 Broadway, downtown Oakland, c. 1955

Inspiration for the "Workingman's Dead" album cover?

In our San Francisco Bay Area, there were two Workingman’s Stores that I visited back in 1972. One was in downtown Oakland, on Broadway. The other was in San Jose’; I believe its location was where the Spartan Stadium is now located, downtown by the Tech Museum and other fine cultural venues.
Back in the day, the Workingman’s Stores sold truck driver bling. We’re talking huge oval belt buckles adorned with semi-trucks, bolo ties with silver longhorn heads and red eyes that lit up. They sold practical items as well: work boots, Carhartt overalls, work gloves, and accessories.
Being a well-established practicing Deadhead, it seemed obvious to me at the time that these emporia were the inspiration for the cover art for Workingman’s Dead, a studio album that introduced the some of the most soulful of the Grateful Dead repertoire: Ripple, Brokedown Palace, Friend of the Devil, Box of Rain.
But 16 years after Jerry Garcia’s passing brought the end of an era, I have been surprised to learn that no contemporary post-Dead-Deadhead seemed to know about the Workingman’s Stores.
So I took me to the Oakland History Room at the Oakland Main Library on 14th Street. In a folder of photos of historic buildings, I found an image of the Oakland Workingman’s Store. From the looks of the automobiles on the street, this image was photographed around 1955. The address is shown as 916 Broadway.
Back in 1972, in my exploratory visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, before I moved here permanently in 1974, my impression was that the Oakland Workingman’s Store was located several blocks west, at the foot of Broadway where shops were later razed to build what is now Jack London Square, close to where the (now abandoned) Barnes and Noble bookstore and the wonderful Scott’s Seafood are now located.
Either way, this image and my explanation are offered to other local history lovers, with hopes that someone has a better photo, and maybe a little history, of the Workingman’s Stores.