Shop Talk: Perfumery at former Spenger’s site sells fine scents (nothing fishy); superheroes in North Berkeley

Le Labo, part of an upscale international chain of perfume shops, opened quietly during the pandemic on Fourth Street. Catch up on this and other Berkeley retail and small business news.

Find out which stores have opened, closed or moved and what’s new in Berkeley’s small-business communities. If you have Berkeley business updates to share, send an email to editors@berkeleyside.org.

Open Fourth Street

Fragrances of bergamot and sandalwood are on offer at perfumery in former Spenger’s Fish Grotto

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What was once Spenger’s seafood shop is now the upscale perfumery Le Labo. Courtesy: Le Labo

If Berkeley were a fragrance, what would it smell like? Meyer lemon, salt air and rosemary, with a top note of redwood?

The perfumery Le Labo, which opened in September 2020 in the former Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto, has introduced 13 city fragrances, including San Francisco, which got its own lime-based scent in 2013. But right now the Berkeley Le Labo is too new and too small to get its own fragrance. One may be in the works. Someday.

Two Frenchmen opened the first Le Labo in New York’s Nolita neighborhood in 2006. Eight years later, the company was snapped up by Estée Lauder. Now it has an international presence and more than 40 locations, all of which reflect the same old-timey aesthetic: intentionally distressed walls where tiles and peeling wallpaper are partially covered up by smeared plaster, salvaged sinks, vintage wooden desks, tables and shelving containing glass bottles.

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All Le Labo stores have the same distressed interiors meant to convey perfumeries of old. Courtesy: Le Labo

As a “slow perfumery,” Le Labo offers 19 eau de parfum fragrances that are compounded on site in lab beakers, then decanted into glass bottles and labeled. Because the fragrances do not contain fillers or parabens, they expire in about two years. A 50 ml bottle is $198; a 100 ml bottle, $289. (To encourage bottle reuse, refills are 20% off.) The personal fragrances also extend into a line of body products.

There are also 10 candle scents, separate and distinct from the personal fragrances. The thought is that no one should smell like their living room. 

Le Labo, 1915 Fourth St. (at Hearst Street), Suite 101, Berkeley. Phone: 510-439-0188. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Connect via Facebook and Instagram

In the Spotlight Fourth Street

Warby Parker designs sunglasses inspired by Berkeley’s Toro y Moi

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The artist known as Toro y Moi (Chaz Bundick) wears one of the new Warby Parker sunglasses as he plays some of his music from a portable DJ rig. Credit: Joanne Furio
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A crowd gathers in front of a jeepney outside Warby Parker to to hear Toro y Moi play songs from his new album. Credit: Joanne Furio

Last Friday at 5 p.m. the polymath known as Toro y Moi sat in the back of a tricked-up jeepney, playing songs from his new album, Mahal, as fans bobbed their heads in time to the music. The jeepney was parked outside the Fourth Street Warby Parker, which has introduced two sunglass styles inspired by the artist’s personal style and music. 

Toro y Moi is the stage name for Chaz Bundick, a.k.a. Chaz Bear, a Berkeley singer-songwriter, producer and graphic artist. He’s best known for his contributions to “chillwave” music in the 2010s, a laid-back style based loosely on 1980s electropop. In 2017, Mayor Jesse Arreguín declared June 27 “Chaz Bundick Day” in honor of his contribution to the arts. 

Warby Parker designers used words like “upbeat,” “expressive” and “catchy” to describe their inspiration for the sunglasses, which start at $95. Bundick wore the clear-framed version as the sun set on Fourth Street and his fans nodded on. 

Warby Parker, 1911 Fourth St. (at Hearst Street), Suite 100, Berkeley. Phone: 510-584-3732. Hours: Daily, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Connect via Facebook and Instagram

Moved North Berkeley

Fantastic Comics downsizes into much smaller shop

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Uel Carter in the tiny new home of Fantastic Comics. Credit: Joanne Furio

Growing up in the L.A. suburbs, Uel Carter was an early reader who, by the age of 4, had already landed on his genre of choice: comics. 

“I was into Spiderman, X-Men, maybe a Superman,” he said. As a child Carter also favored the work of independent publishers in the 1980s who created characters like Gru the Wanderer, Star Slayer, Grim Jack, “but nobody knows them.” 

Carter’s the proprietor of Fantastic Comics, an 11-year-old shop that moved about a year-and-a-half ago from its Downtown Berkeley location at 2026 Shattuck Ave. to a tiny new shop — less than a fifth the size of the original store — in North Berkeley. 

“We were planning on moving anyways,” Carter said. “Rent was just too high.”

Carter’s inventory numbers in the thousands. What is not displayed is in storage, dating mostly from what aficionados call the Bronze Age (the 1970s) to today. “I have no problem selling ’50s comics,” he said, “You just don’t see them too often.”

Prices range from $3 to $5 for comic books; $15 to $30 for collections of comics. 

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A selection of comics at the store. Credit: Joanne Furio

Before starting his own store, Carter worked for years as a “cashier jockey” in retail, mostly comic book stores. His many years in the business have made him an expert who shares his experiences on a live weekly YouTube show (8 p.m. Tuesdays) that has nearly 900 subscribers. On the show Carter discusses upcoming comic book releases, industry news and tips on running a store. 

“When I started this store the one thing I did know was comic books,” he said. “Now I know how to run a business, too.” 

Fantastic Comics, 1708A Martin Luther King Jr. Way (at Cedar Street), Berkeley. Phone: 510- 982-1451. Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Connect via Facebook, Instagram, Substack and Twitter.

In the spotlight West Berkeley

Customers look for bilingual biz whiz to help shopkeeper who turns trash into treasures

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Reuse Arts and Crafts owner Frida Godoy and Marisa Almor, who helps out at the shop and translates for Godoy. Credit: Joanne Furio

If you happen to be a lawyer or business-savvy type who can turn a small, eco-friendly store into a nonprofit — and if you also speak Spanish — the supporters of Frida Godoy want your help. 

Godoy is the owner of Reuse Arts and Crafts, a San Pablo storefront where she has turned discarded materials into whimsical works of art since opening in January 2020. On Nov. 30, Godoy’s three-year lease will be up and her monthly rent will increase from $4,000 to $6,000. She worries that the increase will force her out of business. She said that the pandemic has set her back. She has also struggled to pay taxes and utilities. 

“It is already hard enough to make the $4,000,” Godoy said in Spanish. 

Godoy doesn’t have a problem with her landlord, Ton Ogi-Roddins, who has been flexible and allowed her to pay $2,000 rent for almost the entirety of the lease due to the pandemic. Last month was the only month Godoy paid the full rent. Ogi-Roddins told Berkeleyside that he wants to work with Godoy and her husband, Boni, who helps with the business, so they can stay.

Marisa Almor and Kris Rourke are part of a contingent of customers working to help Godoy remain in the store by turning it into a nonprofit, which they say would allow her to raise money from the community and pay less taxes. 

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Customers of this San Pablo shop are hoping to turn it into a nonprofit. Photo: Joanne Furio

Berkeley residents who support Godoy’s work often drop off raw materials at the store, like a man last Friday who donated paper bags. In the past, Godoy has used such bags to create the spots on two eight-foot tall giraffes in the store. 

“They help me, I help them, we all help the planet,” Godoy told Berkeleyside last year. 

Those interested in helping Godoy can email reuseforartsandcrafts@gmail.com or Almor at marisa.almor@berkeley.edu

Reuse Arts and Crafts, 1824 San Pablo Ave. (at Hearst Avenue). Phone: 510- 967-3324. Hours: daily 1:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Connect via Instagram and Pinterest.

Joanne Furio moved to Berkeley because it has sidewalks. She specializes in design in all its incarnations, innovation and the arts.