Umami Home + Gift on lower Solano Avenue is a beautifully curated mix of new and vintage, and a feast of colors, textures and styles. Fair trade baskets woven by women artisans from all across Africa are displayed alongside unique vintage baskets from Bay Area estate sales or flea markets. Ditto for the glassware: three vintage pitcher-and-glass sets — one pink, one green, one blue — came from auctions, while the colorful Moroccan tea glasses displayed nearby are brand new.
Shop owner Melanie Goldberg, a thrift shopper and treasure hunter since the age of 12, will happily let you know where each item came from. Many of the goods are from local crafts people, including artist and earring maker, Erin McCluskey Wheeler.
“Walking into Umami Home + Gift is like entering a dreamscape — only, it’s real!” Wheeler said.
“I don’t know how Melanie does it. Every time I visit the shop — which is often — it’s like a brand new shop! I’ve never seen the same thing twice, let alone in any other shop.”
Melanie said she receives shipments almost every day, from local artists as well as from artisans around the globe. She rearranges displays often as items sell, and new ones come in. “It’s seriously a dream job for me,” she said.
“Everything you can buy here should feel good,” she said. You won’t find plastic products in the shop. Nor are you likely to find its hand-picked vintage items anyplace else.
“The main principles that guide the sourcing for new items in the shop are: who made it, where did it come from, is it sustainable, are the people who are making these items ethically treated and fairly paid?” Melanie has a careful vetting process and sells only things that she herself loves. The store’s mission includes keeping vintage items out of landfill, seeking sustainably made products and avoiding plastic, supporting fair trade, and supporting female artisans from around the world as well as small-batch unique artisans from the Bay Area and around the United States.
Umami opened its doors in November 2019, and at that time it was one-part home goods, one-part custom window coverings, the latter being a business Melanie had been running since 2013. The pandemic that arrived just four months later made home installations problematic; getting supplies was a challenge as well. That accelerated the decision to drop the window-covering side of the business and focus solely on retail.
“You can order most things from the shop through our website,” Melanie says. And throughout 2020 and beyond, people did just that. The community kept the new shop afloat during the COVID shutdown until the doors reopened. And what’s better than supporting a local shop? Supporting the many artists that Melanie features in her shop.
“It’s always so fun to get that text from Melanie that (my earrings) have sold out,” Wheeler said. She said Melanie takes the time to talk with her customers about each artist, ensuring that each purchase comes with a special story.
It’s no secret that through Umami Home + Gift Melanie has made a difference in the lives of several artists. Just recently, one such artist had the chance to give back with a brightly colored mural on the outer wall of the boutique.
“The idea for the mural was to adorn our business community with more art — but it’s also helped our shop stand out. We’re partially hidden by these mature trees on the sidewalk — a lot of folks don’t even know we’re over here,” Melanie said.
Mural artist Sandrine Demathieu, who used to work at the shop and has some of her print work featured for sale, came up with sketches for the mural and worked with all of the businesses on the block to craft something that suited everyone.
“From Bua Luang Thai Restaurant to Tay Tah Cafe to Albany Hair Salon, everyone got a spot,” Demathieu said. She notes it was a no-brainer to help out Umami and neighboring businesses.
“(Umami) has given me so much. Seeing my artwork for sale, and then sold in the shop has been the biggest confidence booster! You never know who, if anyone, is going to appreciate what you’ve created — so seeing the joy it brings to someone else is just… everything.”