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A Little School for young children opens at former Gay Austin site
As the founder/owner of three Little School preschools in Oakland, Holly Gold long had her eye on the site of the Gay Austin School on Hopkins Street. For one, the building is little, some 1,600 square feet. She also lives in North Berkeley and often passed it.
When the Austin school closed in 2019 after 62 years, Gold was able to buy the building.
She originally intended to simply open up the interiors “to foster an openness and the ability for an indoor/outdoor classroom.” But because of the city’s extensive permitting requirements for schools, the structure had to be completely gutted and rebuilt. The Little School’s first Berkeley location opened its doors in September 2021.
The school is based on a mixed-age, indoor-outdoor model that allows children ages 2 to 5 to move around. About 30 students are now enrolled, with slots for 42. All of its six teachers are trained and experienced in early childhood education. Tuition runs from $2,000 to $2,500 per month and the school is now enrolling for fall.
Gold, a social worker by training, has a long history of working with children and teens in nonprofits, including stints as program director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Francisco and executive director of the Ala Costa Center. In 2003 the City of Berkeley recognized her as an outstanding woman of the year for her work on behalf of children. She opened Rockridge Little School in 2005.
The Little Schools’ approach “takes from the best of everything,” Gold said, including Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia traditions. So the school embraces ideas that promote world peace, “the idea of being connected to something larger than ourselves in a spiritual way and an ‘emergent curriculum’ that is responsive to who children are and what they’re interested in.”
Berkeley Little School, 1611 Hopkins St., Berkeley. Phone: 510-900-2433. Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
In the Spotlight West Berkeley
Big changes afoot for Berkeley dance center that teaches children to be choreographers
For Patricia Reedy, the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 made her take stock of what she was doing versus what she wanted to be doing. At the time she was teaching dance and performing, while her true passion was children’s dance, with a social justice bent.
“My thinking was, I could do these really deep dance pieces and that would have some impact,” she said. “But if I could teach every child how to choreograph their own dances, it would have this bigger ripple effect.”
In 1992, Reedy saw a “for lease” sign on Park Boulevard in Oakland and, on a whim, founded Luna Dance Institute with her friend and fellow dancer Nancy Ng. At the time, Luna was the first dance studio in the region devoted entirely to teaching children how to choreograph. Since then, Luna has moved nine times in the past 30 years. It has never owned its own space.
This year, as Luna celebrates its 30th anniversary, it’s also celebrating a couple of other milestones. After its longtime home at 605 Addison St., shut down during the pandemic, Luna’s now under contract to buy its next home, at 931 Ashby Ave. The institute is also hiring its first director, John-Mario Sevailla, who started on Feb. 14. That will free up the founders to do more creative work.
“We’re at a crossroads.” Reedy said. “Everything’s converging in a really beautiful way.”
Luna’s known nationally in the dance world for teaching children how to choreograph and for teaching teachers. Its teacher education program now makes up half its work and includes several summer institutes.
The social justice part of Luna’s mission is best represented by its groundbreaking MPACT program, which stands for Moving Parents and Children Together, now in its 22nd year. MPACT works with Alameda County to reunite children who had been separated from their parents due to drugs, prison or violence. In the past, such reunions were overseen by a social worker who watched over reunited children and parents.
“Parents felt bad and the child was angry,” Reedy explained. “With dance, they’re just dancing and playing together. It’s really beautiful.”
Last year, working online during the pandemic, Luna served 1,000 teachers who then taught 50,000 children. At its 25th anniversary, Luna’s founders realized they had reached at least a quarter of a million children and families.
“The programs we’ve started have been a logical outgrowth of that first idea: that every child should be able to make their own dance,” Reedy said. “Dance can have an impact in ways you wouldn’t imagine.”
Downstairs, she sells clothes. Upstairs, he styles hair
The husband-and-wife team of Sarah Dunbar and Nick St. Mary is no stranger to retail, though they are new to Elmwood. They opened Pretty Penny Clothing on the ground floor of their two-story storefront and an upstairs hair salon called Hey Pretty! on Oct. 13. Dunbar runs the shop, while St. Mary is behind the salon.
Pretty Penny had been a fixture at 5488 College Ave. in Rockridge from 2006 to 2019, when the couple decided to close the store and sell solely online for a few years. When they decided to return to a bricks-and-mortar shop, they chose a spot farther north on College Avenue. This is the couple’s fifth business venture in the region.
Pretty Penny specializes in women’s vintage clothing from the 1920s to the 1970s, from sweaters to pants, dresses, jewelry and accessories. The shop also offers a curated collection of new clothing, accessories and skincare by local and/or women-owned businesses.
“Not everybody shops vintage,” Dunbar said. “I want everybody to have options when they come in.”
Vintage offerings include high-waisted Wrangler jeans and a paisley-print wrap top (each $52) and two highly collectible Lucite purses from the 1920s ($160 each). Curated pieces include Baggu totes ($12) out of San Francisco, along with Wicked Soaps Co., a woman-owned natural skincare line from West Michigan.
Pretty Penny continues to sell online and attracts some 30,000 Instagram followers.
Upstairs in the salon, St. Mary, with more than 18 years experience, specializes in razor cuts, natural hand drying and styling techniques. He cuts and colors both men’s and women’s hair in all textures. On its website, the salon advertises itself as a “clean air, low-tox environment.” Prices start at $85 for a clipper cut. Appointments are booked online.
New College Avenue hair salon recycles 95% of its waste
Across the street from Hey Pretty! is another new salon, Marmalade, which Onika Crossman opened in November. The salon specializes in razor cutting, curl coaching, and balayage. “We do curly hair education regularly, so that we are knowledgeable about all types of hair,” from straight to tightly coiled, Crossman said.
Crossman comes to Elmwood by way of San Francisco, where she worked for 19 years, and more recently Temescal, where she had a solo studio of the same name.
“I found my clients liked the one-on-one attention, so I tried to replicate … that in the new space,” she said. Crossman also employs two other stylists.
Reflecting a trend, the salon doesn’t have a receptionist or a phone number. All bookings are done online, where answers to frequently asked questions can be found. “It’s a different way of running things, but we have found our clients like feeling like the center of attention,” she said. Phone calls are a “distraction from a client’s service.”
Marmalade is a “synthetic fragrance free” salon and member of Green Circle Salons, recycling 95% of its waste. First-time cuts: $150.
Moved North Shattuck
Gregarious framer moves his shop up Shattuck Avenue
“My claim to fame is that I framed a Nobel Prize for Jennifer Doudna,” said Rodolfo Olortegui, the owner of Artistic Picture Framing, of his customer who shared the award in 2020 for developing a genome editing technique. “The funny thing is I only knew her as ‘Jennifer’ until one day she put the Nobel Prize on my table and I almost fainted.”
On Jan. 18, Olortegui closed his shop at 1975 Shattuck Ave., where it had been for 15 years. The building is slated for demolition to make way for a 12-story apartment building. The shop’s new, larger 2,800-square-foot space about five blocks to the north at 1678 Shattuck was previously occupied by Berkeley Running Company.
This is Olortegui’s second store: He opened an Oakland location at 1501 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in October 2020.
Olortegui is the kind of shopkeeper who likes to chat with his customers and does so in English or Spanish (he hails from Spain’s Basque region) or both. His motto: “Life’s all about how you frame it!”
Besides the Nobel Prize job, another of Olortegui’s claims to fame is the work he’s done over the years for the Golden State Warriors.The team initially contacted him in 2015, after Steph Curry scored 54 points in a game against New York. The Warriors gave Olortegui Curry’s shoes, basketball, jersey and photos from the game; Olortegui arranged them in a three-dimensional box in Warriors blue and gold.
In addition to making boxes, Olortegui and his staff of three often repair and reframe old photographs, paintings or prints using acid-free, archival and museum-quality materials.
“We’re getting a lot of young people who bring in old art and want it reframed in a clean and modern way,” he said.
Recently, Olortegui was asked to build shipping boxes for all the art he had framed for a customer who was moving to Philadelphia. Such work was outside his bailiwick, but “she was retiring,” he said. “It was the right thing to do.”
Open Central Berkeley
New University Avenue shop spotlights queer arts, crafts and community
With its comfy leather sectional, nearby table lamp, artwork and African baskets on brightly colored walls and potted plants everywhere, Hot Stuff Studios feels more like a home than a store. And that’s intentional.
“It feels like your cute friend’s living room,” said Trinicia Alexander, “And you can buy stuff there,” added Drusilla Cowan, Alexander’s partner in business and in life.
On Feb. 22 the couple held a soft-opening to drum up interest in the studio as a space for “queer-centered events and artists.” “The whole gamut of arts will be represented here,” Alexander said.
Plans are in the works for fashion shows, readings to promote book launches and musical performances to promote new albums, which is why the studio has an open-plan central floor space, with items for sale lining the perimeter. Free activities like clothing and book and record swaps are already on the calendar (March 13 for the latter).
The couple met three years ago at an event where Cowan was selling her ceramic jewelry line, You Are Hot Stuff, and Alexander was selling handmade soaps. Alexander has put the soap business on hold to spend more time on their joint venture. To raise money for the studio, the couple raised about $3,800 from its Go Fund Me page and private donations.
So far, the studio is selling Cowan’s jewelry, along with jewelry and prints by Akaelan Rain, a San Francisco artisan whose jewelry is in the $20 range, zines from Irrelevant Press of West Oakland and Animo Style jewelry of Alameda, with prices ranging from $20 to $40 for earrings and wire-wrapped stone jewelry. The couple plans to feature more Bay Area companies, artists and artisans.
The studio’s plate glass windows are painted white, a holdover from the previous tenant. The couple plans to have the paint removed and tall curtains hung to create privacy when they need it, without doing away with the light and airy feeling they are trying to convey.
Hot Stuff Studios, 1703 University Ave., Berkeley. Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Connect via Instagram.
In the Spotlight Downtown Berkeley
Still without a home, Berkeley children’s museum takes its show on the road
It wasn’t easy being a children’s museum during the pandemic. It was even harder being a museum without a home during the pandemic.
Habitot, the Berkeley-based museum that, since its founding in 1998, had operated at 2065 Kittredge St. for 22 years, serving around 60,000 visitors per year, was preparing to open in a new building at 3271 Adeline Street in 2020. But the more than $850,000 to retrofit the building was more than the organization could afford. Then the landlord raised the rent.
“We were dipping into capital funds,” said Gina Moreland, Habitot’s executive director and founder. “There was no end in sight.”
The museum’s board decided to back out of the lease and did so without penalty, thanks to a City of Berkeley law enacted during the pandemic for just this type of situation.
Like many children’s museums the pandemic threatened with extinction, Habitot pivoted to virtual and mobile. For parents beleaguered with always-at-home children, the museum distributed BoxiTots, a kit containing play and learning materials for children ages 3 to 7. The kits, Moreland said, were aimed at increasing parent-child bonding, “which is our mission.”
The kits reached more than 500 families, the majority low-income families receiving public assistance. The museum also created mobile programming, like puppet shows, that was shown online.
When the economy started opening up last summer, the museum began offering pop-ups, 2,500-square-foot exhibition and activity stations that can be packed up and travel from location to location. This year some 20 pop-ups are scheduled, starting with two in Berkeley this month: on March 5, with the Center for Early Intervention on Deafness, 1035 Grayson Street, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., reservations available here; and on March 27 at San Pablo Park, 2800 Park St., from 9:45 a.m. until 5 p.m., with family tickets sold on a sliding scale through Eventbrite.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the museum is still without a home. “If you want to help us find that place,” Moreland said, “we’re eager to hear from you.”
Closed North Shattuck
Longtime framer retires after 36 years
North Berkeley Frame closed on Feb. 1 after 36 years. The shop was known for displaying the figurative paintings of its owner-proprietor, Lars Lucker. So it came as no surprise to many of his customers that the 70-year-old was retiring to pursue art on a daily basis.
“It was a good reason for closing,” Lucker said. “I wanted to go back to my world of art.”
Lucker recommends that his customers take their business one block north to Artistic Picture Framing.
Another longtime frame shop, Storey Framing, 1645 Hopkins St., also closed recently due to a retirement, after 47 years. The trend is likely more about the age of the owners than a downturn in framing. Lucker said the pandemic-fueled surge in home redecorating created a flurry of new business.
North Berkeley Frame, 1744 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley.
Open Downtown Berkeley
Chase branch slides down the block on Shattuck Avenue
With all the construction taking place in Berkeley, one door opens while another closes on an almost daily basis. That’s what transpired the week of Feb. 12 when a new Chase Bank branch opened at 2352 Shattuck Ave., at the corner of Durant Avenue, while its previous location on the same block, 2390 Shattuck Ave. at the corner of Channing Avenue, was being gutted by a backhoe.
The new branch is on the ground floor of Logan Park, an eight-story building containing 209 student housing units. The bank had been on the southern corner of that block in an eight-year-old building that became outdated. For one, don’t call people who help you tellers.
“The word ‘teller’ has for about three years been discontinued by Chase,” says Luis Bermudez, bank manager at the new location. Such employees are now referred to as “associate bankers, more of a hybrid employee.”
Such employees can pull you off of “a transaction line” and help you in one of two, cozy, diner-like booths in its open lobby. “The comfort areas are more comfortable,” Bermudez adds.
There are also glass walled offices, where customers can meet with two private client bankers, part of an eight-member staff.
The new design also features a larger lobby with two ATMs, an area that is closed off from the rest of the bank after hours by a security gate.
“The good thing about our transition,” Bermudez added, “is that our phone number stayed the same.”
Closed North Shattuck
Across from Chez Panisse, Bank of America bids the neighborhood adieu
Customers who patronize Bank of America’s North Shattuck branch were not happy to receive emails last month that the location, temporarily shuttered since early 2020, would be closing for good on Aug. 23. Not even the two outdoor ATMs, open throughout the pandemic, will remain.
Customers were advised to empty their safety deposit boxes by July 15 and patronize the bank’s 1516 Solano Ave. location in Albany, some 1.6 miles away. No reason for the closing was provided in the email.
What confounded customers like Chris Rooney was that the branch had undergone interior renovations last year, “which is strange considering this closing news.” He’s disappointed to lose the branch. “It was my go-to banking location that always had free parking for customers,” he said.
According to Bank of America spokeswoman Betty Reiss, though “the decision to close a branch is never easy,” it was made because the bank’s customers increasingly use ATMs and mobile banking “for the most common transactions, while preferring to visit bank branches only for more complex financial needs.” In addition to Albany, another full-service branch the bank recommends is Berkeley Main, 2151 Shattuck Ave., also about a mile away.
Closed North Berkeley
Car repair shop makes way for more housing
According to a recorded phone message, Campus Auto Care, at the junction of Shattuck and Francisco streets, has closed “due to a retirement.” The retirement happens to coincide with the sale of the property to Berkeley developer Patrick Kennedy, who plans a seven-story, 68-unit apartment building on the site.
Campus Auto Care, 1752 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. Phone: 510-845-8828.
In Brief Biz Buzz
- Commotion West Berkeley, a group of 11 West Berkeley business owners and enthusiasts led by Lawrence Grown of Metro Lighting, announced the recipients of two $3,000 grants for public art projects: a sustainable fashion show in May organized by Berkeley High school senior Helena Udall, and three murals for Jeronimus Alley by the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association and Youth Spirit Artworks. The organizations will be gathering input from the community in the coming months on the murals’ subject matter.
- “Yes, I bought a small, struggling neighborhood business mid-pandemic,” said Lisa McDaniel Jones, who took over as owner of Grove Street Kids in April 2021. The shop is a 13-year-old consignment shop at the corner of Shattuck and Rose selling kids’ and women’s clothes. Jones plans to expand the women’s clothing consignment because “COVID killed off several of the local consignment shops that I frequented.”
- Like an Uber for lawn care, Green Pal arrived in Berkeley in November, intending to disrupt what’s traditionally been a cash business. Once homeowners list their lawn care needs, vendors then bid on the project based on Google street and aerial images and other details. Homeowners then select a vendor based on their ratings, reviews and price and pay them via Green Pal’s website. The company’s online mowing calculator estimates that a weekly cut of grass (10 inches or shorter) in the 94701 area code would cost $33 per cut.