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The pandemic may have shuttered some Berkeley storefronts, but it has also fueled some businesses and caused intrepid shopkeepers to come up with new alternatives to familiar retail formulas.
Opened Southwest Berkeley
Berkeley shop is just 3rd retail location for North America’s largest e-bike brand
At Rad Power Bikes, which opened in November on San Pablo Avenue, manager Manny Ruiz says the store’s most popular model, the Rad Runner Plus, is often bought by parents of small children, who want to port their kids around town in the utility bike’s seat attachment, or by people who want to carry groceries in the bike’s basket attachment.
While some e-bike customers just ride for recreation, many use the two-wheelers — beefier than bicycles and souped up with an electric assist — as an eco-friendly alternative to a car. Not surprisingly, e-bikes have become hugely popular among seniors, the majority of customers at the store the day I visited.
Rad’s cavernous building doubles as a showroom and repair shop, with a staff of 25 to keep things running. Under a tent in the parking lot, customers can sign up for a test drive and tool around in the lot itself or, for the more adventurous, on the street.
Rad offers 15 types of frames in four categories: utility bikes, which can carry up to 275 pounds; Urban Commuter, more of a traditional bike and the lightest of the models; and the Off Road, modeled after a mountain bike, with larger tires that have more tread and a suspension fork in front. Most models are about the size of a vintage Schwinn or a small motorcycle. Rad bikes can go 20 mph and drive 25 to 50 miles on a single charge.
Rad is riding a pandemic-fueled trend, in which e-bikes are seen as a safer alternative to public transportation. According to the market research firm NDP Group, e-bike sales grew 145% in 2020.
Rad Power Bikes was founded by Mike Radenbaugh in 2007, after building his first electric bike to get to and from his high school in Humboldt County. He then partnered with childhood friend Ty Collins in 2015. Since then, as the company website puts it, Rad has been “has been on a wild ride of hypergrowth.” The company first sold online, then opened its headquarters and first bricks-and-mortar showroom in Seattle in 2019, followed by a San Diego location in the spring of 2021 and Berkeley on Nov. 13. Rad is now North America’s largest electric bike brand.
In the parking lot on Dec. 1, Will Roberts, a retired home improvement contractor from Berkeley, was test-driving the Rad City model. A former mountain biker, Roberts used to go on 20-mile trips but now considered going electric because “I am 71 and I don’t feel like riding really far anymore.”
He considers Rad bikes affordable. He had checked out electric bikes elsewhere that were at least $3,000. Rad bikes range from $999 to $1,999.
Ultimately, though Roberts considered Rad’s bikes “well designed and well engineered,” he decided they were too heavy to lift onto his bike rack. But he found the staff accommodating: “This was my third day of test drives.”
So-So Supermarket trafficks in nostalgia for the early 2000s
College towns are usually blessed with an abundance of vintage clothing that is picked through in bricks-and-mortar stores, flea markets or pop-up locations. So-So Supermarket is a hybrid, a storefront with a changing assortment of vendors. This appears to be a model that’s in demand: The shop opened on Sept. 18 and drew lines that snaked around the block.
Owner Mel Willis owns a similar venture, Indigo Vintage Coop, at 2505 Telegraph Ave. Both cater to the college crowd.
The theme behind So-So is Y2K nostalgia, even though many of its customers were too young to have experienced it. Racks of vintage clothing that line the walls celebrate that era, and others dating back to the ’70s are changed out every two weeks. So-So’s permanent displays convey the turn of the millennium’s penchant for cuteness. So you’ll find an abundance of Hello Kitty products, from stuffed animals to toilet paper, balloons, furry synthetic pillows and plenty of pink. Even the shopping baskets are in that hue.
So-So’s playfulness extends to its name. Though it’s not a supermarket, So-So does carry some childhood snacks popular in the early aughts, like Capri Sun, rice crackers and Maruchan ramen.
So-So Supermarket, 2333 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley. Hours: daily, 11 a.m.-7 p..m. Connect on Instagram.
At Myth & Scissors: ‘Vegan taxidermy,’ alchemy workshops and tarot readings, too
Myth & Scissors has a gothic aesthetic “we’re really not shy about,” says Bethany Carlson Mann, who calls herself the shop’s “proprietrix.” Case in point: The window displays when the Elmwood storefront opened on Sept. 22 featured spiders sewing doilies on vintage sewing machines.
Myth & Scissors specializes in book arts and textiles, much of which is artisanal, as well as antiques and the one-of-a-kind. Prominently featured is the jewelry of lampwork glass artisan Alexis Berger, who has a workshop upstairs. There are also crepe paper flowers by Lynn Dolan of Novato, papercuts by the Petaluma artist Ulla Milbrath and “vegan taxidermy” by Berkeley resident Aimee Baldwin, whose lifelike bird sculptures are crafted from paper.
In the tradition of a 19th century curiosity shop, there are oddities with an Addams Family feel, like Oakland artisan Paulette Traverso’s antique porcelain miniature dolls (intended as talismans) and larger doll arms (intended as pendants), both of which she decorates with paint. For the paranormally inclined, the shop sells pendulums and tarot sets and offers $20 tarot readings, usually on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
In addition to its offerings, what also sets the store apart is its workshops on topics like paper marbling, collage, box-making, embroidery, astrology and personal alchemy, featuring many of the artisans the store promotes.
This is Mann’s second retail store. She opened a similar shop, Etui, on San Pablo Avenue, which was open for a year before the pandemic shut it down. Mann’s hopes are high for the new location, which gets more foot traffic.
In the SpotlightThe Lorin
Adeline Yoga celebrates 15 years and pandemic survival
Newcomers to Adeline Yoga should be forewarned: This is not a studio where the instructor performs perfectly executed poses while the class gasps and applauds. Teaching at this studio is hands-on. “Everybody can expect to get feedback and guidance,” says owner Heather Haxo Phillips, who took ownership of the Iyengar yoga studio in 2012. The studio was founded by Chris Williams.
As Adeline Yoga moves into its 16th year, Phillips credits the studio’s 18-member teaching staff (all certified Iyengar instructors) and commitment to community with helping the studio distinguish itself — and survive.
“We say students are taught what to do and how to do it to empower them to harness yoga wherever they may be,” says Phillips.
The almost 900-square-foot studio serves about 425 students a month, 85%of whom tune in via Zoom. Students come from as nearby as the Lorin and as far as the Middle East. Starting this month, Adeline Yoga plans to offer 40 virtual and 10 in-person classes per week.
In addition to classes that emphasize physical postures, the studio also offers meditation instruction and study groups on yoga philosophy. “It’s a holistic approach that includes emotional fitness, health and well-being,” says Phillips.
The studio has also made a commitment to social justice and inclusivity, which plays out in its training programs for teachers, staff and students, a robust scholarship program that’s “integrated at every level,” says Phillips. She credits the studio’s survival during the pandemic to its supportive and tight-knit community: “The fact that we still exist in a physical space is a miracle.”
Adeline Yoga, 3320 Adeline Street, Berkeley. Phone: 510-982-1873. Hours: Monday, 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Tuesday, 9 a.m.-8:45 p.m.; Wednesday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Thursday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Sunday, 9 a.m.-6:45 p.m. Connect via Facebook and Instagram.
Vuori’s high-end athleisure inspired by the active California lifestyle
Joe Kudla was a former all-American lacrosse player who decided to segue into a less punishing athletic activity: yoga. That’s when he discovered, in essence, that there was no LuluLemon for men.
Out of 17 million people doing yoga, 6 million were men—the fastest-growing demographic — yet there was not one brand marketing to them workout gear stylish enough to wear on the street. In 2015, he founded Vuori in Encinitas to fill that gap.
Vuori first sold its moisture-wicking, quick-drying tops, shorts and pants wholesale and online, but soon added a women’s collection and bricks-and-mortar stores. Last year Vuori had six locations. Now it has 13, including its latest, on Fourth Street in Berkeley, which opened Dec. 17.
Vuori’s growth reflects the explosion of athleisure, especially during the pandemic, when workers who no longer needed to go to the office ditched their suits and khakis in favor of comfortable clothing they could wear in a multitude of settings. “Versatility has become more key as we’re blurring lines between work and family and recreation and fun,” says Vuori’s senior director of retail, Catherine Pike.
As a “premium performance brand” Vuori has to justify selling joggers in the $84-$89 range. Dreamknit is its trademarked fabric found in joggers, hoodies and tops that has, as they say in the industry, “a soft hand.” Made from 85% recycled polyester and 15% elastane, the jersey fabric feels “incredibly buttery and soft and comfortable,” Pike says. Pieces made of the fabric are often “the entry point for a lot of people, in terms of finding the brand,” Pike says. “Once they put that jogger on, what we hear is, ‘I need this in every color.’”
In the SpotlightBerkeley Hills
Revival of iconic ‘70s bag from longtime Berkeley retailer Earthly Goods
Berkeley is famous for its public university and national lab, for being the birthplace of the Free Speech and disability rights movements, for serving as a major incubator of California cuisine and for originating, back in the early ’70s, when the Bay Area was a hotbed of hippie fashion, the Berkeley Bag.
The handbag was the brainchild of Allen Connolly, a hippie dad who fled to the U.K. to protest the Vietnam War, and returned to the U.S. and, with his wife, Christine, opened Earthly Goods, first on Solano Avenue, then on Vine and Shattuck, where it remained for 45 years. The store closed in October 2021.
The original store was not just a retailer, but a small-scale manufacturer of handcrafted items, including Roman sandals Connolly made himself. He segued into handbags after purchasing a business from his sister’s boyfriend, Kermit Lynch, now known as a wine merchant.
Lynch “was making handbags from Oriental rugs and he hated it, so I offered to buy the business,” Connolly told The Berkeley Daily Gazette in 1973.
Connolly crafted the bags in the basement of his mother’s house in Albany, using the intact remains of defective or threadbare antique rugs, mostly from Iran and Afghanistan. He lined the bags, and added leather shoulder straps and tags designating the rug’s origin.
The Berkeley Bag was picked up by upscale specialty stores like I Magnin and trendy boutiques in L.A., which is likely where Cher’s stylist found one. The singer was photographed with a Berkeley Bag on her shoulder. The trend spread like wildflowers.
Fast forward to late 2021, when Earthly Goods was clearing out. Connolly’s daughter, Heather, laid claim to the stash of bags — both finished and unfinished — packed away like a time capsule.
“I always said, ‘Don’t give those bags away!’” Heather says. “Those bags are mine.”
Some of the bags are as good as new because, well, the fabric already had some patina. Heather finished off the unfinished bags and added cross-body straps to some, making them more contemporary. She will be selling the one-of-a-kind bags (starting at $80) at a trunk sale — the final chapter of a longtime Berkeley business.
Purveyor of Turkish textiles reopens in historic location
Turkish Towel Collection & Home, at 1717C Fourth Street since 2006, shuttered in March 2020 due to the pandemic but reopened a block away on Delaware Street in April 2021.
What the new location lacks in space, it makes up for in charm, says owner-founder Selim Aykiran. The 1,000-square-foot shop is in a circa 1850 building and includes a garden where Aykiran plans to serve wine and champagne and host live music.
Aykiran started the boutique towel company out of his Noe Valley garage in San Francisco in 1999, manufacturing them in factories in his native Turkey. The 100% organic Turkish cotton towels he designs are sold through the store and online and under private labels for the likes of Frontgate, Ralph Lauren, Gump’s and Barney’s New York, among others. The brand has expanded into bedding, decorative pillows and throws, along with a new line of hemp and linen towels.
In the Spotlight West Berkeley
Argyle Design’s high-tech device to check COVID-19 symptoms
As the pandemic illustrates, periods of great turmoil often spark creative minds. That’s what happened to Jonathan Burke, the CEO and founder of Argyle Design, a West Berkeley product design firm in March 2020.
Burke, a mechanical engineer, was imagining how to measure a patient’s vital signs at a distance to reduce the danger of exposing medical workers to COVID-19. He reached out to a colleague, Victor Shtrom, then the CEO of Augmented Radar Imaging in Los Altos, which had a variety of products that used sensors for all sorts of purposes. Both men had the same idea: sensors.
“Radar can actually detect heart rate and respiration rate,” says Burke. “If you could combine radar with other sensors, you could find out — in less than 30 seconds — if somebody had many of the tell-tale signs of COVID-19.”
Burke created a prototype device for ARI that was in doctors’ and dentists’ offices by September 2020. Seven months later the WellnessDetector™ officially rolled out. The device is now in some 200 locations across the country and in Singapore, India and Thailand.
From a distance of 6 feet, the detector can measure body temperature, heart rate and respiration “like a modern day tricorder,” Burke says, referencing the Star Trek body scanner. According to ARI, the device provides a more accurate temperature reading than an internal thermometer. The price: $2,499, plus a $1,499 two-year subscription.
The WellnessDetector is one of the many products Argyle has designed in its 35-year history. Argyle’s staff of five combines mechanical and manufacturing engineering with industrial design to create “the look and feel of the thing that makes it kind of sexy looking,” Burke says. Argyle specializes in high tech, but has also created furniture for Herman Miller, lighting for Artemide, wireless seat-back displays for Lufthansa and Dolby’s most successful cinema product.
In the spotlight Downtown Berkeley
City hopes new wayfaring kiosks will help tourists, locals navigate business districts
If you’ve ever walked down a city street and forgotten the name of a restaurant a friend had recommended, wanted to alert a city agency to a minor emergency or tried to find out when the next BART train departs, the city’s new kiosks will be able to help.
The first of its kind in the state, the so-called Interactive Kiosk Experience was unveiled at Center and Oxford Streets, across from BAMPFA, on Dec. 13. City officials, representatives from the city’s economic development and tourism offices and leaders of IKE Smart City, the kiosk’s creator, attended the unveiling.
Seven more kiosks are expected to go online in Downtown Berkeley during the first weeks of January, along with one in front of the newly completed Residence Inn. In all, a total of 31 kiosks will be installed, in business districts in the Telegraph Avenue area, in the Lorin District and in South Berkeley. The kiosks are being installed with no cost to the city or its constituents.
Standing about 6-feet high and 3-feet wide, the kiosks feature giant touch screens with information on public transit, restaurants and shops, cultural happenings, events, social services and civic resources, job listings and real-time notifications on severe weather, AMBER alerts and active shooter events. In an emergency, users can be connected to 911 at the touch of a button.
Each kiosk serves as a free Wi-Fi hotspot and is geo-located, displaying informational listings based on what’s in immediate proximity to the kiosk. The kiosks are also multilingual and fully ADA compliant.
“As our commercial districts rebound from the pandemic, IKE Smart City kiosks will provide wayfinding and public information, and make our city and businesses more accessible to residents and businesses alike,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín said at the unveiling.
IKE Smart City is a pioneer in creating smart technology that improves life in cities. Its kiosks have been installed in 10 other locations, including Miami, Denver and Columbus, Ohio. IKE Smart City and the City of Berkeley entered a 15-year franchise agreement that will allow both to share advertising revenues generated by the kiosks.
- Wells Fargo’s West Berkeley branch at 1095 University Ave. (at San Pablo) closed in December due to “staffing constraints,” with no date set for reopening, according to a bank spokeswoman. The bank advised customers to use its branch locator on the website for info on the bank’s seven other Berkeley locations.
- Three cutting-edge Berkeley companies received Innovation Awards from the East Bay Economic Development Alliance on Oct. 14 during a virtual presentation. ARRIS Composites, which created a technology for mass producing composite materials that are lighter, stronger and more sustainable, won in the advanced manufacturing category. Girls Garage, a nonprofit design and building program and dedicated workspace for girls and gender-expansive youth ages 9 to 18, represented the education category. UPSIDE Foods, a maker of cultivated meat, got top honors in the food category. Winners were selected from a pool of more than 200 nominees, which was then whittled down to 20 finalists in 10 categories. The alliance also honored Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with a Legacy award for its decades of scientific research, breakthroughs and dedication to solving “some of the most pressing and profound scientific problems facing mankind.”
- When it comes to saving the lives of dogs and cats, Berkeley Humane Society is not fussy about the types of donations it receives, which is why the animal shelter is now one of the first in the country to accept more than 60 types of cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin and Ethereum. Executive director Jeffrey Zerwekh says donations are especially needed this year as expenses are up and revenue, well, is not. The donation process can be completed in less than three minutes on the humane society’s website.