Find out which stores have opened, closed or moved and what’s new in Berkeley’s nonprofit, retail and small-business communities. If you have updates to share, send an email to

Closing Elmwood

Gary Gendel’s old-fashioned candy emporium will soon come to an end

Sweet Dreams at the corner of College Avenue and Russell Streets will close on Jan. 15 after 52 years. Credit: Joanne Furio

In the back of the old-time candy store her late husband, Gary Gendel, opened at the corner of College Avenue and Russell Street in 1971, Lucia Gendel fought back tears, barely able to discuss the difficult decision she has made: to close Sweet Dreams Candy and Toys on Jan. 15.

Berkeleyside reported in September that she had originally planned to keep the legendary candy store going and had moved the remaining toy inventory from the toy store into the candy store.

“I can’t run the business without him,” she said. “This store was his passion. It’s heartbreaking.”

Candy stocked the old-fashioned way at Street Dreams, an Elmwood institution. Credit: Joanne Furio

Gendel said she wanted to give the community a chance to come in and say goodbye. “Gary loved the Berkeley community,” she said. 

A 1978 article about Sweets Dreams founder Gary Gendel in the Berkeley Gazette that his wife shared with Berkeleyside. Courtesy: Lucia Gendel

Gendel died on Aug. 11, weeks after closing the Sweet Dreams Toy Store, down the block from the candy store on College Avenue. At one point, Gendel had expanded Sweet Dreams, with stores in Orinda, Concord and Palo Alto. The remaining store has four employees, including manager Rosario Trejo, who has worked there for close to 10 years. 

The two Sweet Dreams closings signal the end of an era, said Burl Willes, a friend of the Gendels’ and former Elmwood merchant whose Trips Out Travel was next door to the candy shop. 

“Gary loved creating this wonderful childhood fantasy and got so much pleasure out of it,” Willes said. “It’s sad for kids in the neighborhood.”

Sweet Dreams Candy and Toys, 2901 College Ave. (at Russell Street). Phone: 510-549-1211. Hours: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.  Connect via Facebook and Instagram

Open Elmwood 

Menswear brand Rockridge opens a holiday pop-up on College Avenue

Spare interior of shop with sky and clouds on walls and a a few racks of clothes
The interior of the new pop-up, called the Holiday Residency. Courtesy: Rockridge

Randy Wells observed that the tech industry has long been associated with entrepreneurship, but the fashion industry? Not so much.

That was part of the reason the former menswear creative director decided to start Rockridge in 2017, a clothing brand that combines mens’ fashion that’s “rooted in youthful expression and traditional tailoring” with entrepreneurship.

“For me the brand has always been about creating experiences that would bring entrepreneurs together,” he said, “as well as selling products that reflect their lifestyle and their needs.” 

Uber co-founder John Zimmer posing in a Rockridge sweatshirt. The brand opened an Elmwood pop-up on Wednesday. Credit: Kevin Allen
Rockridge founder Randy Wells wearing one of his brand’s shirts. Credit: Kevin Allen

Wells opened his first retail location, called the Holiday Residency, on Wednesday, a pop-up that combines Rockridge’s casual fashion with limited edition products (like books and holiday gift items), and a lineup of events that will include business workshops, talks on how entrepreneurs or small business can access capital and musical performances. 

“Everyone is local,” Wells said, from business leaders like the business incubator ICA Fund of Oakland to East Bay rapper Manidraper, who just released his latest album, “Every Blue Moon.”

Wells spent almost 20 years as an art director/creative director in men’s fashion, first in New York for urban apparel brands like Ecko Unltd. and G-Unit Clothing Company and then in the Bay Area for brands like Levi’s and Men’s Warehouse. He was living in Rockridge at the time he developed his own label, though he has since moved to Elmwood.

After so many years in menswear, “My attitude was, more or less, that I have something to contribute,” he said. 

Rockridge sells button-downs and hoodies in the $100 range and T-shirts from $50 for an unadorned white version to $75 for one with a printed statement on the back: “If something is important enough, you do it even when the odds are not in your favor,” a statement that reflects Wells’ entrepreneurial attitude. 

“The future of the East Bay will be determined by small businesses and entrepreneurs,” he said. “Let’s create a community space that gives these folks the tools and the resources to exist locally.”

Wells said the pop-up won’t stay in the Elmwood storefront past January, but he will be creating more “immersive retail experiences” in the Berkeley/Oakland vicinities throughout 2024. 

Rockridge Holiday Residency, 2946 College Ave., (off Ashby Avenue). Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Connect via Facebook and Instagram and X.  

Open Claremont 

A new ‘boutique’ frame shop boasts upscale frames and free parking in front

Storefront on corner with Grand Opening sign
A well-known Claremont storefront that once housed Turtle Island Books is now home to Claremont Custom Framing. Courtesy: Claremont Custom Framing

When Tony Marine opened Claremont Custom Framing on Sept. 8 in a corner building on Claremont Avenue, neighbors came in and welcomed him. The storefront had once been home to the beloved Turtle Island Books for 30 years and had been vacant for about three years. 

“Everybody knew that place,” Marine said. “They were so happy I was here, even if they weren’t customers.” 

Marine was encouraged. The frame shop is his first solo business.

Like many stay-at-home parents, Marine held various jobs that provided flexibility. He helped his wife, an attorney, run her business for years. He worked at frame shops. He worked for a pharmaceutical company. He had a business selling art online. 

Now that his children are older, Marine didn’t want to go back to a desk job, so he decided on picture framing. He already had five years’ experience and “really liked it,” he said. “I figured I can do this on my own.”

Marine, who lives in Albany, called the corner location “a dream spot.”

“It’s a great neighborhood. It has foot traffic and car traffic. It has huge windows,” he said. “And I have free parking. People can actually park in front for two hours for free. There’s not a lot of places like that in Berkeley.”

Marine calls Claremont Custom Framing “a boutique shop,” offering higher-end frames. The assortment runs the gamut, from aluminum to wood materials, from rustic to ornate styles. Among his vendors is the Oakland-based House of Maes, which makes “really cool frames.”

“I’m always looking for interesting frames and keep adding so I have a good selection,” he said. 

The shop also does fine-art printing, featuring high-quality papers, which many artists use to make prints of their digital images. 

Walk-ins are welcome, but customers can also book appointments online or by calling the store. 

“It’s beyond my expectations,” Marine said, of the store’s initial success. “I’m really happy.”

Claremont Custom Framing, 3032 Claremont Ave., (at Prince Street) Berkeley. Phone: 510- 380-2984. Hours: Monday-Tuesday by appointment; Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Connect via Instagram and Facebook

In the spotlight Ensler Lighting

Lighting up Solano Avenue for 50 years, Ensler Lighting now does a brisk business in lamp repairs and energy-efficient conversions, too

Ed Mahl repairing a vintage light fixture at his Solano Avenue shop, Ensler Lighting. Courtesy: Ensler Lighting

In 1973, Elaine Ensler opened Ensler Antiques on Solano Avenue. As the years went by, though, she began focusing more on lighting than antiques. In 1983, she changed the store’s name and moved it “up,” or east, to its present location at 1793 Solano, into what had been a millinery shop. 

Now owned by Ed Mahl, Ensler Lighting is celebrating 50 years on Solano. 

Mahl, who had been a pediatrician for 35 years, purchased the business from the Ensler family in 2012. Though he loved being a pediatrician, he envisioned his new role as a shopkeeper as being “less stressful and complicated.”

When the Enslers owned the store, it was known primarily as a place to buy lamp shades and have repairs done, Mahl said. He has ramped up both aspects of the business. 

Ensler is now one of the Bay Area’s largest sellers of manufactured shades, which come in about 500 variations, mostly in silk and linen, and styles ranging from traditional to mid-century modern. Most of the brands he carries are made in the U.S. 

Drawing of a storefront of Elaine Ensler Antiques 1793 Solano
Elaine Ensler started selling lighting when she moved her store to its current location in 1983. Courtesy: Ensler Lighting

The store’s lamp repair business not only does rework for individual customers but for other Bay Area lighting stores. With the help of one employee, Tyler Bell, the store does all repairs in house. Ensler Lighting also has the unusual distinction of repairing halogen lamps and converting fluorescent lamps to LEDs.

While pediatrics and lighting may appear to have little in common, Mahl insists that there is some crossover. 

“Is this lamp worth repairing? What shade do you think would look good with this lamp? People still come and seek counsel from me, but the stakes are incredibly lower, ” he said. “I still like the conversation and the dialogue and the exchange of information that comes with figuring out what to do with your mother-in-law’s lamp that you treasure.”

Ensler Lighting, 1793 Solano Ave., Berkeley. Phone: 510-526-4385. Hours: Thursday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m. 

In the spotlight 

Annual holiday gift sale features 25 vendors — from artisans to food and service companies

Goods from the Berkeley store Fern’s Garden will be among those for sale at the Berkeley Holiday Gift Fair on Nov. 30. Courtesy: Fern’s Garden

The Berkeley’s Chamber of Commerce’s answer to one-stop shopping will take place when it holds its Holiday Gift Fair from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30, at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza. Complimentary eco-friendly gift wrapping will be available. Admission is free. 

More than 25 local vendors will be on hand selling their goods and services, among them: Games of Berkeley, Fern’s Garden, Cult Crackers, Scents by the Bay and Core Chaud, a line of wool-blend studio grip socks created by a Pilates instructor Jessica Trauner. 

Berkeley Holiday Gift Fair, Hotel Shattuck Plaza, 2086 Allston Way. Hours: 3 to 7 p.m. Phone: 510-549-7000. 

In Brief

Biz Buzz: Perimeter receives $125,000 award; Books Inc.’s plan to get more books into kids’ hands

  • Perimeter, a Berkeley-based platform that makes real-time evacuation management software accessible to first responders and the public, is one of four national companies to win Verizon’s second Climate Resilience Prize. The prize recognizes companies that are focused on mitigating the disproportionate impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities. In addition to that recognition, Perimeter will receive a $125,000 award. Another Berkeley company, Clarity Movement, a provider of air-quality monitoring, was among the 10 finalists chosen in August. 
  • Books Inc., with nine Bay Area locations, including North Shattuck, has created Reading Bridge, whose mission is to get books into the hands of children from all socio-economic backgrounds. The program has been designated as a charitable organization, the first step in becoming a nonprofit. “We chose to do this via school book fairs because that’s what we do best,” said Hannah Walcher, who runs the program and is based out of the chain’s San Leandro store. “We are excited to be bringing these special events to even more schools in our communities and helping kids find a book that makes them fall in love with reading.” 

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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...