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In the spotlight Elmwood

Iconic Slash Denim Levi’s sign gone in a flash, back just as fast

Slash Denim owners Adriana Guerra and Carla Bell with the jeans sign that was stolen and then returned. Courtesy: Slash Denim

Modeled after a pair of size 54 Levi’s, the wooden sign at Slash Denim has been outside the store at the busy corner of College Avenue and Russell Street almost since its founding 43 years ago. Founder Carla Bell, who now co-owns the shop with Adriana Guerra, loved the handcrafted sign. 

“It looked exactly like a pair of jeans,” Bell said. 

So she was upset to discover that on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 10, a man and a woman walked away with the sign, which was captured on the store’s surveillance camera. The footage shows the couple talking about the sign before carrying it off. After the owners put the footage on social media and got more than 1,300 responses on Instagram, the couple returned the sign two days later. 

The couple apologized, telling the owners that they thought the sign was up for grabs and that they were new to San Francisco. The owners did not pursue the matter further. 

“I’m just happy to have the sign back,” Bell said. 

Slash Denim, 2840 College Ave. (at Russell Street), Berkeley. Phone: 510-665-5994. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11-a.m.-7 p.m.; Sundays, noon-6 p.m. Connect via Facebook and Instagram

Open Southwest Berkeley

Arts and culture (but no lattes) are on offer at new Aktivate Cafe on San Pablo

The three-woman team behind Aktivate: Terri J. Smith, Tonja Robertson and Jasmine Betego. Credit: Joanne Furio

Tonja Robertson has spent most of her career in the food industry, starting at Skates on the Bay at the Berkeley Marina and then at the Lake Chalet in Oakland and an Alameda catering company before opening Aktivate Cafe in April. She thought she’d be offering food there, too, but the building’s constraints forced her to pivot. 

She has made the 660-square-foot storefront as a creative space for local artists who want to “cultivate their craft and collaborate with others” and an event rental. Robertson’s familiar with the neighborhood — she grew up about four blocks away. 

Aktivate has a calendar of events and regular activities it sponsors, like open mikes on the second and fourth Thursday of the month and karaoke every Friday night ($15 admission to each) and voice lessons given by Terri J. Smith, who’s part of Robertson’s team, along with Jasmine Betego. A portion of the business also involves event rentals (pricing upon request), which can include the use of a pool table stored in the back room.

The interiors at Aktivate, a new arts and cultural venue and event rental on San Pablo Avenue. Credit: Joanne Furio

So far, the cafe has hosted poets, digital artists, rappers and musicians of every stripe, including “a man who whistles entire songs, which is kind of cool,” Robertson said. Coming up: live jazz and a Beats & Brunch event highlighting Afrobeats in October. Aktivate is also starting an Artists Fund to raise money for community artists, who can apply via its website.

Being the owner/creator of a creative space has “exposed me to different avenues I never thought of trying,” Robertson said. “I enjoy being around artists.” 

Aktivate Cafe, 2630 San Pablo Ave. (at Carleton Street), Berkeley. Phone: 510-470-4032. Connect via Facebook and Instagram

Closed South Berkeley

A long-time dealer of precious things clears out after 30 years

Precious Antiques on the corner of Ashby and Adeline for three decades being cleared out. Credit: Joanne Furio

“It wasn’t quite the end we had been hoping for,” said Malcom Jones, as he cleared out the remains of his sister Marian’s longtime Berkeley store, Precious Antiques. “But it was time.”

The store had been sporadically open for months and, after Marian Jones suffered from a stroke, which made her unable to be on her feet for a couple of months, closed for good at the end of August. Her brother said that she’s working hard at rehab and making tremendous progress. 

The store’s at the corner of Adeline Street and Ashby Avenue, part of the Adeline Ashby Antiques District, a collection of shops that have been there since the 1930s. Jones opened her shop around 30 years ago, selling art, jewelry, textiles, furniture, rugs and African art. 

“She was and is a good friend and she was a real sort of star on the corner,” said Ted von Hemert, whose von Hemert Antiques has been around the corner at 1989 Ashby Ave. for 54 years. “She was always so enthusiastic about antiques and pretty things.”

Von Hemert noted that Jones was especially knowledgeable about Oriental rugs and often repaired them herself. Like many antiques dealers, he said, Jones also preferred shopping over selling and had accumulated such a collection, she had to put many of her offerings on the sidewalk because her store had become so packed. 

“Everybody liked her,” von Hemert added. “She will certainly be missed on the corner.”

Precious Antiques, 2994 Adeline St., Berkeley. 

Closed Lorin District

A shop selling braids and hair extensions is uprooted from Adeline and Alcatraz

Braid Bar & Beauty lost its lease when its building was sold to a new owner. Credit: Joanne Furio

Kahara Morris and her sister, Rika Hunter, opened their first Braid Bar and Beauty at 6524 Shattuck Ave. in Oakland in 2012 and followed up with a second store at the corner of Adeline Street and Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley in 2017. The Berkeley location closed on Aug. 15 after the building was bought by a new owner. The building had been for sale ever since the shop opened.

“The new owners wanted to do something different with the space,” Morris said,  “so we really didn’t have too many options.” 

The sisters grew up on Shattuck Avenue in Oakland near the Berkeley border and plan to open a second location in the Berkeley/Oakland vicinity sometime soon.

The Braid Bar, 3300 Adeline St., Berkeley. 

Not Closed Southside

Used bicycle store is open, doing business on the sidewalk

Adlai Karim is still selling used bikes in front of his store, despite an incorrect Google listing saying he was “permanently closed.” Credit: Joanne Furio

Adlai Karim was not happy to learn that the Google listing for his used bicycle store, Karim Cycle, recently said that it was “permanently closed” in a red banner. The designation disappeared a few days later. 

“I am open and selling used bikes every afternoon,” he said. 

The store, technically, is not open. On a recent afternoon, the front door was ajar and revealed a shop packed to the gills. In fact, he has so much stuff in his shop, Karim sells bikes on the sidewalk in front of the store, which he plans to do until his lease runs out in October 2023. The building is slated to be torn down to make way for a five-story apartment building

In 2005, Karim was cleared after police confiscated 17 bikes that had their serial numbers rubbed off and police returned all but one of them to the store. 

Karim Cycle, 2800 Telegraph Ave. (at Stuart Street), Berkeley. Hours: daily, from around 3-6 p.m. 

Reopening Fourth Street

Hip clothing store Madewell will no longer be just for women when it reopens next month

The Madewell store on Fourth Street, still under wraps, will include a new men’s section. Credit: Joanne Furio

Madewell, a women’s brand aimed at hip 20- and 30-somethings, closed on Aug. 7 and will re-open in early October with a new men’s section that will take up about a quarter of the 3,448-square-foot store. The men’s section will even have its own entrance.

The J. Crew spinoff is known for a denim-centric, casual lineup that reflects the increasingly blurred lines between the home and workplace. Madewell introduced menswear in 2018, before the pandemic blurred those lines even further.  

Madewell, 901 Fourth St.,  Suite 104, Berkeley. Phone: 510-845-1790. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Connect via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

In the spotlight North Berkeley

Natural perfumer Mandy Aftel enjoys the sweet smell of success

Mandy Aftel and the Golden Pear Award she received for her “exceptional vision” in the field of natural fragrance. Courtesy: Mandy Aftel

Natural fragrance expert Mandy Aftel is again in the news. In July, she received the 2022 Art and Olfaction Septimus Piesse Visionary Award from the L.A.-based Institute for Art and Olfaction for “showing proof of exceptional vision with regards to how scent is used, developed or imagined.” 

The nonprofit institute is devoted to advancing public access to the practice of working with scent. It has also honored Aftel in another way: by creating an award in her name for a maker of natural perfume. 

Aftel is the creator of the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents, the nation’s first museum devoted to perfume and the experience of fragrance, in a cottage in her Walnut Street backyard, and the author of four books on natural fragrances. 

Aftelier Perfumes, 1518-1/2 Walnut St. Berkeley. Phone: 510-841-211. Hours: Open Saturdays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Connect via Facebook and Instagram.

Joanne Furio is a longtime journalist and writer of creative nonfiction. Originally from New York, she has been a staff writer, an editor and a freelance magazine writer. More recently, she was a contributing...