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In the spotlight North Shattuck

Breaking Stereos’ non-gendered clothing for kids aims to make tighty-whities obsolete

A pair of gender neutral underpants patterned with the Breaking Stereos logo. Courtesy: Breaking Stereos

Melanie Dunn and her daughter love Captain Underpants, but Dunn wonders if the childrens’ book character would want to ditch his signature tighty-whities if given the chance. 

“It would be great if Captain Underpants could wear Breaking Stereos underwear,” Dunn said, plugging her new brand, which features gender-neutral underpants. “If it makes Captain Underpants happy wearing those briefs, then more power to him. The whole point is that he now has more choices.”

Launched on Nov. 28, Breaking Stereos is a children’s apparel and accessory brand that does not conform to gender stereotypes. Its No Labels collection of underpants for children ages 2-9 features four styles (short, boxer brief, bottoms and briefs) that can be worn by any kid in the color and pattern of their choice. Pink is offered, though it’s no longer just for girls (a trend that took hold during the 1940s), along with royal blue and a pattern depicting the Breaking Stereos boombox logo. 

Melanie Dunn of Breaking Stereos. Courtesy: Breaking Stereos

What’s also different is the fabric. Instead of 100% cotton, No Labels underpants are made from a synthetic Dunn chose for its softness that’s 46% bamboo, 46% modal and 8% spandex. She also extended the fabric to cover the inside of the elastic waistband, again with a nod to comfort.

“The kid won’t feel the waistband on their skin,” she said. 

Run out of a North Shattuck office, Breaking Stereos is sold only online. In addition to underpants ($12 a pair; $32 for three), there are logo Trucker hats ($25) and beanies ($30), jean jackets ($85-$125) and a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Changemaker” designed by Bay Area artist Alex Jauregui ($28 for kids; $32 for adults). 

Modeling the look. Courtesy: Breaking Stereos

Dunn described Breaking Stereos as a passion project. By day she works in the financial services industry and ventured into a side gig of children’s fashion after several frustrating shopping excursions with her now 6-year-old daughter, who loves blue and red but only found pink and purple underpants in the girls’ department. Her daughter ended up shopping in the boys department, Dunn said.  

“One of my friends said, ‘You should do something about that,’” Dunn said. “Breaking Stereos is all about giving kids the freedom of choice to wear the colors and patterns that make them happy.” — Joanne Furio

Breaking Stereos. Connect via Facebook and Instagram

In the spotlight North Berkeley

Long-established martial arts master Kenneth Pitts is raising money to create a dojo in his North Berkeley backyard

Kenneth Pitts has been working with students at his home after leaving an Oakland location. Courtesy: Kenneth Pitts

Because of the pandemic and rising rent, Kenneth Pitts has kept his 30-year-old Oakland academy going by moving it into his North Berkeley home, where he teaches in his former dining room or, weather permitting, in his backyard or driveway. 

That’s a stop-gap measure that’s worked for the past two years, with the help of Zoom, but Pitts has been working on a more permanent solution.  He is hoping to raise $80,000 through GoFundMe to create a new dojo in his backyard, using a prefabricated 20-by-20-foot Tuff Shed with a half-bathroom. So far he’s raised about $18,000. — Joanne Furio

The backyard setting for Kenneth Pitts’ martial arts school in North Berkeley before concrete was poured. Courtesy: Kenneth Pitts

Pitts, one of only a few Black martial arts masters in the Bay Area, holds a seventh-degree black belt in taekwondo and has black belts in judo, jiu jitsu, capoeira and kajukenbo, a blend of karate, judo and kung fu. He teaches all those traditions at his school. 

At its height during the late ’90s and early aughts, Pitts Martial Arts Academy had 150 students. Because of moving and the pandemic, he now teaches about a dozen students, mostly children, but also a 76-year-old woman who’s a black belt. 

Pitts submitted his plans for the new dojo to the city two-and–a-half years ago. The concrete was poured in December, so Pitts plans to work next on the structure, then the electrical, plumbing flooring, painting and landscaping. 

“At the pace I’m going, I estimate completing the project by mid-summer,” Pitts said. — Joanne Furio

Pitts Martial Arts Academy, 1321 Derby St., Berkeley. 510-915-2604. Hours: Wednesday-Friday, 5-7 p.m. Connect via Facebook and Instagram.

Briefly closed Elmwood

Burst water heater causes Rialto Cinemas Elmwood to close Wednesday, Thursday

Flooding closed down Rialto Cinemas Elmwood Wednesday and Thursday this week, but unlike some other Berkeley closures it wasn’t storm-related. 

A water heater burst on the third level of the theater sometime after 11 p.m. Tuesday and wasn’t discovered until the morning. By then, the ceiling of the ground-floor lobby had sprung a leak, paint on the walls had bubbled and half an inch of water had accumulated on the carpet. There was also damage to the hallway and women’s restroom on the second floor. 

Roxanne Goodfellow, the theater’s chief operating officer, said she was grateful the damage was mostly cosmetic and the theater was able to replace the water heater quickly and reopen on Friday. 

“We’re relieved it wasn’t the roof, because that would have been another bigger problem,” she said. “This is an old building and the plumbing is pretty old. It’s kind of like painting the Golden Gate Bridge: You start at one end and keep going, and then you go again.” — Zac Farber

In the spotlight North Berkeley

Kitchen on Fire launches an alternative to kombucha

Rebout’s Sid Bala, production and operations manager, Lisa Miller and Olivier Said, owners of Kitchen on Fire, with their new nutritional drink. Courtesy: Rebout

What happens when you combine the skills of a nutritionist with those of a chef? Rebout, a nutritional drink that (reportedly) tastes good. 

“Rebout is especially popular among those who don’t like the vinegary, funky taste of kombucha,” said Sid Bala, Rebout’s production and operations manager, in a press release. 

Rebout Bubbly Probiotics and Wellness Teas are the brainchild of chef Olivier Said and nutritional consultant Lisa Miller, the owners of the Kitchen on Fire cooking schools in North Berkeley and Oakland. The duo had been serving custom concoctions of herbs and spices to their students for a decade before they decided to turn them into a product.

Derived from the French noun le rebouteux, a person who uses traditional and natural methods for healing, Rebout (like “reboot”) is made from both fresh and dried herbs and spices and designed to bolster the immune system, enhance moods and promote overall health and wellness. 

The drinks are produced in small batches at Kitchen on Fire and are available in five flavors: Thyme Licorice, Citrus Camomile, Elderberry Essence, Ginger Lemongrass and Hibiscus. They sell for around $7 a bottle at locations like Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market and Star Market. — Joanne Furio

Rebout Bubbly Probiotics and Wellness Teas. Connect via Facebook and Instagram

In the spotlight Gilman District

Toe-tapping, twirling and swirling planned for Ashkenaz’s 50th anniversary fete

Inside Ashkenaz on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley. Credit: Ashkenaz

Ashkenaz, Berkeley’s legendary showcase for traditional and world music and dance, has a lot to celebrate. Its closing in March 2020 because of the pandemic provided an opportunity for a major renovation that included a seismic retrofit and facelift of its iconic, wood-paneled facade, modeled after an 18th-century Polish synagogue the Nazis burned in World War II. Ashkenaz reopened in June of 2022. This year, it celebrates 50 years.

In honor of the milestone, Ashkenaz is holding a Golden 50th Kickoff on Saturday, Jan. 14, part of David Nadel Week, declared by the City of Berkeley in 1997 in honor of Ashkenaz’s founder. 

The evening will feature a lineup of music from around the world: Nakarat, a San Francisco-based duo featuring music of the Balkans, Karamo Susso, a kora player from West Africa and SambaDá, a contemporary Afro-Brazilian group.

Since Ashkenaz is also known for its dance offerings, such a celebration would not be complete without it. Kathy Reyes, a popular Bay Area instructor, will teach a bachata lesson, while Nonstop Bhangra, a Bay Area entertainment group, will feature music and dance performances and lessons in the Punjabi tradition.   

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and $25. — Joanne Furio

Ashkenaz, 1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley. Phone: 510-525-5054. Connect via Facebook and Instagram

Closed South Berkeley

Black Swan Antiques flies away after four years at Adeline and Ashby

Black Swan Antiques is the most recent store closing in the Adeline Ashby Antiques District. Credit: Joanne Furio

For Delane Dominick, who has owned Black Swan Antiques since 2018, the runaway success of her going-out-of-business was bittersweet. She was left with only about a dozen small items. 

“It went really fast and really well,” she said. “It was so busy, my husband had to come and help eight days straight.” 

Dominick closed the 1,800-square-foot shop on Dec. 17, the second antiques store to pack it in within four months in the Adeline Ashby Antiques District, which dates to the 1930s. 

Precious Antiques on Adeline closed in August after a 30-year run because its owner had a stroke. Black Swan is closing for a number of reasons: Dominick’s back problems, her need to care for her 90-year-old mother in the Midwest and ongoing issues with crime.

“It’s a very problematic corner,” she said, noting how a clerk at the liquor store across the street was shot in the hand during a robbery attempt in August. “I’ve been robbed several times. Windows broken. Being in the store by myself all the time when someone nefarious comes in — it’s a little dicey.” 

She said she considered locking her door and buzzing customers in but decided against it.

Black Swan’s closing sale attracted many loyal customers. Credit: Joanne Furio

Black Swan was Dominick’s first brick-and-mortar store, which specialized in home decor, from vintage mid-century items to antique furniture, ceramics, flatware, jewelry, artwork and Persian and Turkish rugs. She previously sold in an antiques collective in San Anselmo. 

“The store was a success,” Dominick said. “I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came in or sent me messages about how much they loved it.”

After a couple months’ break, Dominick plans to start selling again through her Instagram page and then on a platform like Etsy, where she plans a virtual store. — Joanne Furio

Black Swan Antiques, 1999 Ashby Ave. (at Adeline Street), Berkeley. Connect via Instagram

Still open Solano Avenue

Pharmaca managers say Solano Avenue pharmacy isn’t closing

Despite some evidence to the contrary — empty shelves and news that parent company Medley Health declared Chapter 11 protection on Dec. 9 — two managers at Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy insist that the Solano Avenue location is not closing. 

“We’re going through some problems: one of them is supply chain and the other is restructuring,” said one manager, who did not want to use her name.

Pharmaca now has 22 stores in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington after closing some locations in October. — Joanne Furio

Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, 1744 Solano Ave. (at Ensenada Avenue), Berkeley, Phone: 510- 527-8929. Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Connect via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Closed Central Berkeley

Hot Stuff, a queer creative space, closes after 10 months

A partial view of the interiors at Hot Stuff Studios, a place for gay arts and gatherings that closed on Dec. 17. Credit: Joanne Furio

If you’re looking for some hot stuff, you will no longer be able to find it in Berkeley. Hot Stuff Stuff Studios, a queer creative space, closed its doors on Dec. 17, 10 months after opening. 

Founders Drisilla Cowan and Trinicia Alexander had envisioned the space “as comfortable as your cute friend’s living room,” Alexander told Berkeleyside in February, with cushy sofas, potted plants, artisanal items for sale and events geared towards the queer community. 

Though the center ended up ticking off a lot of the goals on the partners’ to-do list, from tarot-reading workshops to queer open-mic nights, it nevertheless failed to make it. 

“We love y’all for making this dream happen,” the couple recently posted on Instagram, where it had racked up 4,700 followers. — Joanne Furio

Hot Stuff Studios, 1703 University Ave., Berkeley. Connect via Instagram

In Brief Biz Buzz

  • On Nov. 28, 2022, a burglar broke into Pamana Plantas, making off with $80 in cash and leaving behind a broken glass door. Dom Morales, who runs the plant shop with her parents, created a GoFundMe page to help cover the $800 in damages that insurance didn’t cover. She ended up getting more than she asked for: $1,195. Morales plans to use the extra money for more community events and “some things we’ve been hoping to add to the shop,” she said.   
  • Two years ago University Press Books closed after almost 50 years of “serving up pure brain food,” according to its website, a smorgasbord of books from university presses around the globe. To sell off its remaining inventory, which includes classical LPs, the store re-opened for what it described as a “limited-engagement encore” during the holidays (Wednesday-Friday, noon-4 p.m.), but noted that its schedule may change after the holidays until the final curtain call — whenever that may be.

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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...