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Open South Berkeley

Brain researcher heads a spiritual center whose programs hail from many traditions

People sitting cross-legged on a low wood stage with musical instruments and candles in a well-lit room with plants
Teacher Chandra Easton leads a kirtan in The Alembic’s main meditation hall. Courtesy: The Alembic

The Alembic, which opened in South Berkeley in July 2022, isn’t just any “bodymind center committed to experiments in transformation,” as its website promises. Executive director Kathryn Devaney, a neuroscientist who taught a class at Stanford on meditation and the brain, explained why.

“We’re not involved in one particular spiritual tradition or way of looking at things,” she said. “We have teachers that represent very different points of view.” 

Another point of difference: The Alembic has a research lab with an EEG machine to study meditators’ brain waves. “That’s very, very different from most healing centers,” she said.

Devaney sits cross-legged on a curb in front of a big outdoor "The Alembic" sign
Executive director Kathryn Devaney in front of The Alembic’s Seventh Street location. Courtesy: The Alembic

In addition to weekly meditation classes, the range of classes and events is eclectic. “Cacao: Breath + Sound” combines drinking cacao with deep breathing techniques and sound healing. Prized by ancient Mayans and Aztecs in Mesoamerica, cacao — a bitter, intense beverage not to be confused with chocolate  — is high in antioxidants, good for heart health, may lower blood pressure and stimulates the release of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, which create feelings of happiness and well-being. 

Other classes include “The Art of Slowing Down,” “Soul Writing,” “The Four Immeasurables” (loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity) and Sufi dancing. Psychedelic therapy pioneers will speak when the Women’s Visionary Congress convenes at the Alembic, beginning Friday and running through Oct. 9. 

The Alembic’s three co-founders — Devaney, Michael Taft and Erik Davis — met at Dharma Collective, a meditation center in San Francisco. Taft has taught meditation at Google and Apple and directed a publishing house producing media about personal growth and spirituality. Davis is the author of five books on spirituality, including The Visionary State, about the architecture and faiths behind California’s extremely varied houses of worship.   

The 5,500-square-foot South Berkeley space was pure kismet: It had housed yoga and meditation centers like Seventh Heaven and Namaste Yoga since the 1990s. Today, its main meditation hall features a handmade mandala donated by Berkeley artist Gabriel Schama, warm earth-colored walls and local art in hallways and a tea lounge. 

The Alembic’s name is inspired by alchemy. An alembic was a vessel used for transformation, and conditions in the environment and mind needed to be correct for transformation to occur. “Alchemy is a western, eastern and proto-scientific tradition,” said Devaney. 

Classes and events average $15-$35 (most by donation), with weekend retreats and workshops in the $60-$200 range. — Sharon McDonnell 

The Alembic, 2820 Seventh St. (at Ashby), Berkeley. Phone: 510-631-2975. Connect via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  

Open Elmwood

After years moonlighting as a Pilates instructor, Christine Vleck Jensen goes all in with Elmwood studio

People do Pilates in a big room with brick walls and a high wood ceiling
A recent class, using Reformers, at Mighty Pilates. Courtesy: Mighty Pilates

Christine Vleck Jensen understands the power of Pilates to transform lives — including her own. She was first introduced to Pilates as an Ironman athlete when her intense training regimen resulted in a string of injuries and seven foot surgeries. Pilates helped her get back into racing shape.

“I loved the impact it had on my body,” Jensen said. “Pilates has been the one form of exercise that has always been there for me and gotten me through.”

She loved Pilates so much that she began teaching classes even while holding down a corporate job and raising two children. Now Jensen has given up the corporate life for good to co-open Mighty Pilates Berkeley.

This is the fifth Mighty Pilates location and the second co-owned by Jensen. She opened a studio in Lafayette in 2022 after moving to the East Bay and being unsatisfied with the Pilates studios near her home. None of them matched up to Mighty San Francisco, where she was an instructor and a client. She mentioned this to Mighty founder, Cricket Wardein, and the two of them decided to open a location to serve the East Bay.

Studio's exterior, with sandwich board that says "one workout away from a good mood"
Mighty Pilates’ entrance on Ashby Avenue. Courtesy: Mighty Pilates

The Lafayette location was an instant hit with several new clients driving in from Berkeley and Oakland, Jensen said. That prompted Jensen, Wardein and Michelle Hatsushi to start looking for a Berkeley location.

Jensen is no stranger to Berkeley. She received an MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, and until August worked for CLIF Bar in nearby Emeryville, where she led the eCommerce and Shopper Marketing team for 13 years.

The new space on Ashby Avenue has the aesthetic touches that Mighty is known for — intricate murals, high ceilings, natural lighting. They have 12 Balanced Body Reformers in their main studio space, a separate room for private sessions, and large bathrooms with lockers and showers, stocked with fresh towels and toiletries.

Jensen notes their classes are more fast-paced than many other Pilates studios. “You’re going to leave sweaty,” she said, “and feeling like you got a good workout.” But they also offer slower-paced foundational classes, and private appointments for people rehabbing from injuries or coming back from giving birth.

“We always say you’re one workout away from a good mood,” says Jensen. “We want people to come in and leave feeling happier.”

Prices are $40 for a single class;  $110 for three classes to $630 for 20. Privates are $100 a session; $1,000 for ten. Nathan Dalton

Mighty Pilates, 2631 Ashby Ave. (off College Avenue), Unit B, Berkeley. Phone: 510-502-7344. Hours: Monday, 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Tuesday-Wednesday, 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Thursday, 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Friday, 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.-noon; Sunday, 8 a.m.-11 a.m. Connect on Facebook and Instagram.

Open North Berkeley

Colorful gallery exterior
The new Alma Rise Gallery devoted to women artists is in a courtyard off Cedar Street. Courtesy: Alma Rise Gallery

Gallery director Lupe Muller said she decided to create Alma Rise, a gallery devoted to showcasing the work of women and women-identifying artists that opens Friday, because “the numbers speak for themselves.” 

She was referring to global statistics compiled by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which includes the fact that though women earn 70% of bachelor of fine arts degrees and 65%-75% of master of fine arts degrees in the U.S., only 46% of working artists (across all arts disciplines) are women, and only 13% of exhibitors in U.S. and European galleries were women.

As an artist herself, Muller knows this to be true. A former singer songwriter who headed the indie folk-rock band The Mullerette Project for 15 years, she segued into painting during the pandemic and was quickly represented by a gallery. She said the more she learned about the art world, the more she and her women artist friends noticed how much harder it was for women to get shows than men. 

“It’s really difficult to get a show when you’re not an established artist,” she said. 

Woman perched on small stool in front of artworks depicting deconstructed flowers

That’s when she came up with the idea for Alma Rise, a nonprofit. She has raised money for the gallery, visited lots of studios, and named it Alma Rise because “alma” means soul in Spanish. 

In addition to being women-centered, Muller also wants to highlight work based on merit and “not just the work of those with masters degrees,” she said. “We’re trying to help all kinds of women and give everyone an opportunity.”

The gallery takes a 30% cut from pieces sold, compared with 50% (or more) for most traditional art galleries. Muller said she intends to work closely with individual artists to decide on fair prices, as part of an effort to address the severe gender pay gap in art. “I want the artists to be able to make a living and not leave the [Bay] Area,” she said. “Most artists have a pretty good reason and how they price their art, so it is important to us to … not just make the decision for them.”

The gallery’s inaugural exhibition, Friday from 5 to 7 p.m., features the work of Fernanda Martinez, a Mexican-born artist and muralist who lives in Oakland. (If you haven’t already signed up for The Scene, our arts and events newsletter, you can read about it here.)

Alma Rise will also be selling art online with the hope of reaching a more global audience. — Joanne Furio

Alma Rise Gallery, 1600 Shattuck Ave., Suite 126 (entrance via a courtyard off Cedar Street), Berkeley. Hours: Wednesday-Friday, 1-4 p.m.; weekends by appointment. Connect via Instagram

Open Fourth Street

Cotopaxi blazes a new (colorful) trail with its first East Bay store

Inside a Cotopaxi store, with rolling backpacks, clothes, hats and more
Cotopaxi is known for its colorful outdoor gear. Courtesy: Cotopaxi

Named after one of the world’s highest active volcanoes in the Ecuadorian Andes, Cotopaxi has brought its signature backpacks — along with hip packs, rolling bags and apparel —  to Fourth Street. The Salt Lake City-based retailer opened its 16th store on Friday, Sept. 29, in part of what was once Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto, a city landmark built in 1919. The storefront and interior of the building boast some of the original architecture. 

Cotopaxi joins retailers Fireclay Tile, Le Labo and Van’s in a wing next to what remains of Spenger’s Fish Grotto restaurant, whose owners Jamestown L.P. of Atlanta are renovating for an as-of-yet unnamed new restaurant tenant that will fit with the former Spenger’s vintage vibe. When Spenger’s closed in 2018, it was Berkeley’s oldest eatery. 

Cotopaxi is known for its use of bright color in an outdoor apparel marketplace typically dominated by earth tones. Cotopaxi often combines several bright colors in one item, creating a color block effect. The brand’s interest in color takes its inspiration from the Ecuadorian flag and Latin American art and textiles. 

Exterior of store
Cotopaxi’s 16th store opened on Fourth Street Sept. 29 in what was once part of the Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto. Courtesy: Cotopaxi

According to regional sales manager Kelli Kremer, Berkeley was a natural fit because it already had a customer base here, and “the community aligns really well with our impact initiatives and brand values.” 

Some of those initiatives include sustainability. Ninety-four percent of Cotopaxi’s products are made with repurposed, recycled or responsible materials. The company is also Climate Neutral certified, which means it has measured its carbon footprint, reduced it and compensated for it by purchasing carbon credits to offset its emissions. By 2025 the company has promised to decarbonize its supply chain through renewable energy and using non-virgin and responsible materials in all its products. 

The Berkeley store joins another Bay Area location in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. — Joanne Furio

Cotopaxi, 1915 Fourth St., Suite 104, Berkeley. Phone: 510-833-3399. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. . Connect via Facebook and Instagram.  

Moved Solano Avenue

Nielsen Arts moves into the former Chloe’s Closet storefront and makes it over

Exterior of single-story building
Nielsen Arts Gallery and Custom Framing recently moved two doors up, to 1545 Solano Ave. Courtesy: Nielsen Arts Gallery and Custom Framing

Nielsen Arts Gallery and Custom Framing moved a mere two doors up for the same reason people move from one apartment to another in the same building: more space. 

The gallery and frame shop left its 900-square-foot storefront at 1537 Solano Ave. for a 1,600-square-foot shop at 1545 Solano, the former Chloe’s Closet location. The store reopened in a newly remodeled space on Sept. 25. 

“We’ve got more room for the art gallery, for retail and for our staff to operate and do something pretty special here,” said owner Patrick Mercer, who’s owned the 50-year-old business for the last 15 years.

Inside of frame shop with lots of open space, paintings and frame corners on the walls
The newly renovated interiors in Nielsen Arts Gallery and Custom Framing. Courtesy: Nielsen Arts Gallery and Custom Framing

The remodel features new rough sawn dark hickory flooring and industrial lighting fixtures, with a white oak and architectural glass dividing wall as the centerpiece. Mercer described the new aesthetic as “retro industrial.”

The gallery is celebrating with an inaugural show featuring new paintings by the Oakland artist Mary Kalin-Casey. The show opened Sept. 30 and runs through Nov. 28. — Joanne Furio

Nielsen Arts Gallery and Custom Framing, 1545 Solano Ave. (off Neilson Street), Berkeley. Phone: 510-525-8968 Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Connect via Facebook and Instagram

Open Southside

Bancroft Clothing is going away — but not forever

Exterior of Bancroft Clothing Co., with a big dirty blue awning and a recessed shop window
Bancroft Clothing will close next year once construction gets underway for a new residential building on the site, but will return once that building is completed. Credit: Joanne Furio

UC Berkeley students have been shopping for clothes, shoes and blue-and-gold collegiate apparel at Bancroft Clothing since it opened “30 or 40 years ago,” said owner David McCaulou, who has an excuse for not remembering exactly when. His longtime family business consists of 16 East Bay stores, including McCaulou’s department stores and David M. Brian gift shops. 

McCaulou said the owner of the building that contains his Berkeley store, Landmark Properties, has made him aware of its plans to tear down the building and build a 12-story, 110-unit apartment building, but that won’t happen until some time next year. While Bancroft Clothing will close, it won’t be forever. 

McCaulou plans to open a new store on the ground floor of the new building. — Joanne Furio

Bancroft Clothing, 2530 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. Phone: 510-841-0762. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday noon-5 p.m. 

Coming Soon Gilman District

A Chase Bank branch will replace Italy on Gilman

Exterior of Italy on Gilman
Italy on Gilman will become a branch of Chase Bank at the end of next year. Credit: Joanne Furio

Italy on Gilman is becoming a bank. Most of the former Italian restaurant that closed in May will become a branch of Chase Bank, but a spokesman could not reveal exactly when — only that it would be the second half of 2024. 

The new location will join three other Chase branches in Berkeley: at 2150 Shattuck Ave., 2352 Shattuck Ave. and 2301 Telegraph Ave— Joanne Furio

Chase Bank, 1300 Tenth St., (off Gilman St.), Berkeley. Connect via Facebook, Instagram and X

Berkeleyside reporter Iris Kwok contributed reporting to this story.

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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...