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- New sailing club takes over OCSC’s spot at Berkeley Marina
- Berkeley tech company turns into worker co-op as owner retires
- Fourth Street pop-up is devoted to women’s swimwear
- Strong roots have kept Vine Street Salon in the hair business for 30 years
- Bittersweet end for longtime candy-making and cake business
- Staff shortage caused weekend Walgreens closure
Open Berkeley Marina
New sailing club takes over OCSC’s spot at Berkeley Marina
Landlubbers may not be aware, but sailing towns have their own boating specialty.
“Sausalito is more about cruising. Berkeley is more performance-oriented, so it has more sport boats,” said Leigh Hunt.
He should know. He’s the owner of two sailing schools, Modern Sailing School & Club in Sausalito and Inspire Sailing in Berkeley, which opened a year ago. Inspire occupies the spot of the former OCSC Sailing, a mainstay at the Berkeley Marina for 45 years, which closed during the pandemic and never reopened.
Before becoming a sailing school owner, Hunt spent years as a recreational sailor. An electrical engineer who worked in Silicon Valley, he sailed in clubs around the bay and was a client at Modern Sailing until it went up for sale in 2013. He left tech and took over as owner and operator.
“When OCSC didn’t emerge from COVID, I wanted to make sure there was a continued sailing school and sailing club presence over here,” Hunt said. The school offers a similar U.S. Sailing curriculum, similar types of boats and serves a similar clientele. In fact, most of Inspired Sailing’s 350 members had been OCSC members.
“Most of the new people joining the club are learning how to sail,” Hunt said.
Inspire Sailing joins another sailing school at the marina, Cal Sailing, a low-cost, volunteer-run nonprofit founded about a half century ago.
Inspire offers larger vessels than Cal Sailing, and Hunt touts that all of Inspire’s instructors are U.S. Sailing-certified and U.S. Coast Guard captains.
Inspire offers a beginner’s class every month, which costs $125 per seat for a five-hour sail. The school also hosts sailing clinics for more practice in specific skills and race clinics three times a year so participants can join Berkeley Yacht Club’s Friday night races. Inspire’s fleet consists of 18 boats, from 24- to 40-feet.
Like OCSC, Inspire Sailing is also a club, with membership starting at $50 a month after a $500 initiation fee. Day charters for members range from $200 to $675 per day, depending on the size of the boat and day of the week.
“The cool thing is that the City of Berkeley and CalTrans just finished renovating the road to the marina,” Hunt said. “So the path to get down here is better than it has been in a long, long time.”
In the Spotlight West Berkeley
Berkeley tech company turns into worker co-op as owner retires
In 2016, when Jerry Skomer began to discuss his retirement plans with his staff at Alternative Technologies, a company he founded in 1989, he couldn’t help but evoke the Golden Rule: to treat people the way you’d like to be treated. If he sold the company, Skomer worried that many of his longtime workers, some of whom had been with him for more than 20 years, might not make it through the transition.
“I could not countenance the possibility that my staff would have been subjected to the real possibility of termination, especially after they had worked so hard to achieve the success that Alternative enjoyed,” he said.
The solution: to turn Alternative Technologies into a worker-owned cooperative. On March 15 the company became the 23rd worker-owned cooperative in Berkeley.
AT, which is located in the former Heinz ketchup factory, provides a variety of technology infrastructure services, from cloud-based phone systems to fully-managed IT services, cloud-based backup and cloud platform support, WiFi installation and low-voltage wiring infrastructure. It also assists with IT security, budgeting and planning.
When Skomer founded AT, he was its sole employee — an attorney, not an IT person. But he said he was tenacious, worked hard and hired good people. At its height, AT grew to a staff of 40, which was reduced during the pandemic to 32.
“When Jerry founded the company he talked about doing the right thing for our customers, our employees and the world,” said Deborah Farrell, one of three equal managing directors who now lead the company. “That idea of the ‘triple bottom line’ wasn’t even a thing then, but he made it a thing. For us to become a worker-owned coop is a fulfillment of that vision.”
Here’s how it will work: the company is now led by three managing directors and a board of directors, which includes two managing directors to help with board development. By 2024, the board will be composed entirely of non-managers and managers would be ineligible to be board members.
“In this way the worker-owners will have a real voice in how the company is run and the burden of management will fall on the managers who were hired to do that,” Farrell said.
AT’s path to employee ownership began around 2016 when Project Equity conducted a feasibility study. Project Equity is an Oakland-based nonprofit that has partnered with the City of Berkeley in 2018 to help businesses remain in the city through employee ownership. The results of the study proved favorable, so AT hired Project Equity in 2020.
Project Equity has so far assisted five Berkeley businesses in converting to cooperatives, including Westbrae Nursery, The Local Butcher Shop, Adams & Chittenden Scientific Glass Coop and Oceanview Diner. Since 2018, Project Equity has engaged with more than 250 companies. For AT, the usual 12- to-14-month conversion process took longer because of the pandemic.
“I’m out of it now, so I can be a little more outspoken,” Skomer said. “I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished. So they deserve it.”
Open Fourth Street
Fourth Street pop-up is devoted to women’s swimwear
“Swimsuits are probably the hardest category to shop for within the fashion industry,” acknowledged Michelle Copelman, vice president of brand and design at Andie, an online brand devoted to women’s swimwear.
Andie opened its third U.S. pop-up store on Fourth Street on May 27. It will remain open through Dec. 31.
Known as a brand that emphasizes fit, Andie has developed a 12-question fit quiz, which helped earn it a spot on Forbes’ list of “20 of the Best Swimwear Brands for 2022.” The quiz is based on data from hundreds of thousands of women. After taking the quiz, customers receive a customized selection from the brand’s 157 styles, which range from size 0 to 26. Prices start at $95 and go up to around $125.
Reinforcing its reputation for classic styling, all of the brand’s top bestsellers are one-pieces: The Amalfi, a classic maillot; the Tulum, reminiscent of the Bay Watch tank; and the Malibu, with a snap neckline. On June 21, Andie introduced a new line of coverups, the No. 1 category its customers requested, to go with their new swimsuits.
Andie was founded by Melanie Travis five years ago, when she was working at BarkBox and preparing to go on a work retreat but couldn’t find a swimsuit that was work appropriate. Andie was an entirely online operation until it opened pop-up stores in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 2021, and Sag Harbor, New York, this May.
Berkeley’s 1,231-square-foot location was chosen for its brisk foot traffic and demographic that includes university students, young mothers and older women, all of whom “don’t want to be as revealing or sexy at the pool or beach,” Copelman said. “Berkeley has a diversity that we cater to and are trying to attract.”
In the Spotlight North Berkeley
Strong roots have kept Vine Street Salon in the hair business for 30 years
There’s a trend in hair salons that has nothing to do with hair: the disappearing receptionist.
At least six Berkeley salons don’t have them, requiring customers to book online. But that’s not likely to happen any time soon at Vine Street Salon, one of Berkeley’s largest and oldest salons, celebrating 30 years this month.
“We have clients who have been with us so long,” said Lora Batiste, who owns the salon with Mary Jane Niven. “They are used to being greeted and being able to call up and ask questions.”
Batiste and Niven met while assistants at Capelli, the salon that previously operated in the Vine Street location. After his partner died from AIDS, Capelli’s remaining owner ended up selling to Batiste and Niven, who were both single mothers.
“Kids can be a great motivator,” Niven said.
Vine Street is known for its education program, which allows newly licensed stylists to learn advanced techniques under the guidance of a senior stylist and provide cuts and color for a minimal charge. The relationship is a win-win: assistants end up attracting clients, while the salon builds up its staff. Successful stylists can then become independent contractors, which typically results in a higher salary.
“That’s been our business model: to keep a good staff and make everything available to them,” Batiste said. “The young ones see that there’s a path to being independent and making real money for themselves.”
In an industry notorious for being a revolving door, Vine Street’s 21-member staff includes several longtime employees who have been with the salon for 20 or more years. The salon has grown from an eight-chair to a 13-chair facility and doubled in size, now encompassing about 1,800 square feet on the second floor of a historic Walnut Square building.
Closing for eight months during the pandemic proved challenging, but the fact that the business survived created a feeling of resiliency the owners don’t take for granted.
“There isn’t a moment that can’t change on a dime and cause us to think, many times in creative ways, how to move forward,” Niven said.
Niven hasn’t done hair since 2012 due to ailments and is happy to have her partner be the face of the salon. Looking back, they’re surprised at how opposites like themselves ended up as partners. For starters, Batiste was born and raised in Berkeley; Niven’s from New Jersey.
“Lora thinks outside the lines. I make sure we at least stay on a line — any line!” Niven said.
Yet they share a common work ethic.
“It’s like a marriage,” Batiste said. “We’ve been able to get along and make it work.”
Closed Central Berkeley
Bittersweet end for longtime candy-making and cake business
“Come enjoy the sweet life!” was the slogan of Spun Sugar, a cake-decorating and candy-making supply store that also offered classes. The sweet life came to an end after 26 years when the store closed on June 18 after holding a 75% off sale and turning away some sad customers.
“There was a lot of wailing at the front door when they saw the sign,” said owner Linda Moreno, sitting in the back of the 2,200-square-foot store while workers packed up and the owners of other Bay Area baking stores came in to inspect the deeply discounted merchandise.
Moreno said the store had been struggling, but the pandemic played a large role in its demise. When mandatory closings went into effect in March 2020, she had to cancel fully booked classes, taking a huge slice out of her earnings.
“We couldn’t get back to a regular teaching schedule, didn’t have staff, had to open five days instead of six,” she said. “I also dealt with too many homeless people at the front. One kicked in our glass door. Twelve-hundred dollars later, I think I’m done doing retail.”
Moreno is also packing up her Berkeley home of 32 years and heading for the hills — Sonora County’s Gold Country. She’ll miss teaching, but said “it’s OK to do something different.” She’s considering an offer to be a traveling teacher.
“It’s not like I’m starting from scratch,” she said.
Spun Sugar, 1611 University Ave., Berkeley. Phone: 510-843-9192.
In the Spotlight Gilman District
Staff shortage caused weekend Walgreens closure
On the weekend of June 18-19, the Walgreens pharmacy on Gilman Street closed with no advance warning due to a staffing shortage, according to a spokesperson. As a result, no Walgreens pharmacies were open that weekend for customers seeking to pick up prescriptions. The Gilman store is the only Berkeley Walgreens with weekend hours.
In February, the drug store chain closed the pharmacy at 2310 Telegraph Ave. The Walgreens at 2190 Shattuck Ave. has not had a pharmacy for four years; the pharmacy at 2801 Adeline St. is closed weekends.
The spokesperson directed customers to the Walgreens store locator on its website, which is updated throughout the day, and its app. She said customers with questions about their meds can also talk to a Walgreens pharmacist 24/7 using the Pharmacist Video Chat feature on the website and app.
The pharmacy closings come on the heels of a nationwide scaling back that involves the closing of 200 stores across the country. Walgreens closed its Shattuck Avenue store at Cedar Street store in 2020, followed by San Pablo and Ashby avenues closing in 2021.
Walgreens, 1050 Gilman St. (at San Pablo), Berkeley. Phone: 510-528-8274.