Find out which stores have opened, closed or moved and what’s new in Berkeley’s small-business communities. If you have Berkeley business updates to share, send an email to [email protected].
In the spotlight Gilman District
When it started in 1972, it specialized in Berkeley hippies’ Volkswagens
In 1972, Ken Shapiro was a 21-year-old mechanic at a Boston Volkswagen dealership when he heeded the call to go west.
“I hated the winters in Boston. I hated the summers,” he said. “I wanted to open my own shop. I just felt like Berkeley was calling.”
Part of the draw was Berkeley’s reputation as the birthplace of the free speech movement and its staunch anti-war stance. “It was a great place to be at that time,” he said.
So he and a friend packed into a 1958 Volkswagen bug pointed west.
Shapiro opened his first VW auto repair shop, at 700 Delaware Street, in 1973 when “there were millions of Volkswagens in Berkeley,” Shapiro said. Though there are fewer VWs on the road, Precision People’s Car Repair, now on San Pablo Avenue, is still around after 50 years.
Shapiro originally called his shop Precision VW Repair, but was soon informed by Volkswagen that the name was a copyright infringement. Because “volkswagen” in German means “the people’s car,” Shapiro came up with the current name.
After a year on Delaware Street, Shapiro moved to a larger shop at 835 Gilman St. and then into his current, even larger shop, in 1976.
What’s also grown are the types of cars Shapiro’s shop repairs.
“In 1980 we started doing Japanese cars,” he said. “In the mid-’90s we started doing domestic. Then in the early 21st century we started taking in some trucks, especially Dodge Sprinters, because of the van thing. We do all kinds of vans and trucks now,” he said. “You have to change with the times.”
Working behind the scenes since 1980 is Shapiro’s wife, Jackie Turnshek, who does the books. In 1986, decades before it was part of the national discussion, she advocated for a four-day work week. The couple had young children at the time and she complained that she never saw her husband.
“She talked me into it and she was right,” he said. “The employees love it. I love it,” he said. “She’s instrumental in celebrating the 50 years.”
The staff is also made up of the couple’s daughter Lydia Turnshek, who runs the office, and two mechanics.
“People come here because it’s much more personalized than going to a dealer. You don’t get to talk to the mechanic who worked on your car. They don’t care like I care because it’s my business,” he said. “I treat people nice. The big thing is that I like what I do.”
That philosophy has resulted in happy and longtime customers who recommend PPCR’s work on online outlets like Berkeley Parents Network.
Peitsa Hirvonen, the former owner of Berkeley’s SESCO Electrical, has been a customer since the beginning, when he brought his 1962 VW Beetle in for repair. Since then, PPCR has repaired all of the 11 or 12 cars he has owned.
“He’s honest and stands behind his work,” Hirvonen said. “It’s important to have someone who’s actually telling you what you really need and giving you options.”
New Elmwood spa is offering free luxury treatments — if you prove you’re low-income
Worthy Self-Care Studio opened on March 15 on Ashby Avenue.
Like Bay Area Brain Spa, which recently moved from Berkeley to Albany, Worthy is part of a “biohacking” trend in day spas that seek to combat aging and promote a host of mental and physical health using a combination of ancient therapies (like cold plunging) and new technologies (like infrared saunas, red-light therapy and lymphatic massage), all of which Worthy offers.
Like a traditional spa, the setting is luxurious without being too chi-chi. Unlike a traditional spa, the services are not meant to be an indulgence, but part of a regular regime and often do not require an attendant.
In addition to being part of a new trend, Worthy is also an experiment in a new business model.
Typically, spas cater to the wealthy, since such services typically are not covered by health insurance. Worthy is poised to attract that crowd, while also hoping to make self-care available to those who cannot afford it — provided they show proof.
“I want to create a space where people from all walks of life can come, people of different races, genders, abilities and socio-economic status,” owner Meliza Mokrani said. “Every single person is born worthy to experience wellness and well-being.”
To that end, Mokrani has created a nonprofit, the Worthy Wellness Initiative, to provide Worthy’s services free to those who meet low-income criteria and are active recipients of social programs like Calfresh or Section 8 vouchers. Right now, the nonprofit can serve up to 10 such clients, who would be approved by Mokrani in a private phone interview and required to provide documentation via email. Once approved, these clients would receive services comparable to a $159 tier-one membership, which can be used for weekly visits. So far, no one has signed up.
In creating Worthy, Mokrani, a Napa native, drew on her background in hospitality and as a certified health coach.
During the pandemic, she invited her frazzled mom-friends to her Oakland home to make use of her infrared sauna, cold-plunge and red-light therapy machines. While her friends decompressed, Mokrani took their kids and her son (she’s a single mother) out to play. When she returned, she saw first-hand how such therapies improved her friend’s mental health and well-being.
“I knew I had to take this idea to the public,” she said.
Created by a team of professionals that includes the L.A. designer Lindsay Pennington, the interiors of the studio evoke the feeling of a North African bathhouse — Mokrani’s parents are from Algeria — in an attempt to transport clients as far away from the hustle-and-bustle of Ashby Avenue as possible.
The space is divided into a reception area and a large sky-lit space with a lounge at its center, surrounded by six treatment rooms. The studio is wheelchair accessible and will soon have a lift to assist those in wheelchairs getting in and out of the cold plunge.
Responding to what she saw during the pandemic, Mokrani thought it was crucial to offer supervised child care.
“What a great model to show our children – that self-care is important,” she said. “I am a better mother, sister and friend because I take care of myself.”
Memberships range from $159 to $995 a month. There’s also an a la carte menu that ranges from $25 for a NuCalm meditation program to $97.50 for a two-person, 50-minute infrared sauna session) and other packages, as well as a sliding scale.
Funding for the nonprofit side comes from community donations and a “pay-it-forward” program in which studio members can make a tax-deductible contribution.
In the spotlight Southside
New leader of Berkeley’s YWCA chapter looks to continue its 133-year record of service
Berkeley’s YWCA, originally called the University YWCA, was founded in 1889 by 17 of the 24 female students then attending UC Berkeley. Their goal was to provide all sorts of support for the students, while also doing good work for the community.
“It was a beautiful history in terms of serving the university women, who would come back or stay connected to the organization,” said Jennifer Radics-Johnson, the new executive director of the 133-year-old nonprofit, now known as the YWCA Berkeley/Oakland. “This chapter has always been in the forefront of the women’s rights movements and social and racial justice as well.”
Radics-Johnson was named executive director on April 4, bringing 15 years’ nonprofit experience to the job, most recently as the executive director for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, a statewide organization. A SoCal native, she moved to the East Bay with her husband eight years ago.
Her new position reflects ideals that deeply resonate with her.
“The mission of eliminating racism and empowering women — I literally could not dream up a better mission. Although professionally I haven’t been able to work specifically in this arena, as a woman of color, it’s a driving force in me,” she said. “Doing this full time as a profession and really thinking about how to achieve this mission within our communities was just a dream come true.”
The YWCA Berkeley/Oakland started as two separate chapters, each with its own building designed by the pioneering architect Julia Morgan. The Berkeley “Y cottage” ended up being sold to UC Berkeley in 1957. A year later the chapter moved into its current location, a new 14,000-square-foot building designed by the Bay Area architect Joseph Esherick.
The Oakland Y’s five-story structure, built in 1915, proved too costly for the struggling chapter to maintain and was sold in 2007, two years after the Oakland chapter merged with the Berkeley chapter.
The headquarters for the combined chapters houses a staff of nine full-timers, a half-dozen work-study students and dozens of interns and volunteers, mostly from the Cal campus.
Over the years the chapter raised funds for the Red Cross during World War I, housed Planned Parenthood in 1969 and created a Black Unit in 1970 for Black members of the university community.
Current programming includes financial literacy for domestic violence survivors, the Strive Program, an eight-week course for women looking to reenter the workforce, and TechGyrls, digital literacy for Oakland middle-school girls. The chapter’s also participating in a national YWCA social justice initiative called Stand Against Racism Challenge, which provides participants with small, daily challenges that build more effective social justice habits. The challenge runs through May 2.
At its annual Festival of Women Authors, now in its 28th year, Radics-Johnson met a longtime volunteer who in 1963 was selected to represent the chapter at the March on Washington.
“The history we have in terms of racial and social justice is so long standing,” she said.
The chapter is in the process of rebuilding its programming after the pandemic forced all of its in-person activities to go virtual. Radics-Johnson hopes to hear from the public.
“We want to see what the community is into now,” she said.
Reopened Northwest Berkeley
‘Far & Few’ vintage shop is back on San Pablo Avenue
Jessie Foster, the owner/proprietor of Far & Few, has been on San Pablo Avenue for 10 years now, selling vintage clothing, jewelry, household items, artwork and furniture.
“It’s just a big hodgepodge of everything possible, but mostly clothing,” said Foster, who reopened the 700-square-foot shop in March after closing during the pandemic.
“I try for pretty high-end and high-quality pieces,” she said. “I’m not real expensive, but I like to get the designer pieces when I can and the authentic vintage pieces, which are getting harder and harder to find.” In other words, farther and fewer between.
Her designer finds include a floor-length dress with a train from the French brand Dice Kayek ($250). Vintage items include a rare 1920s cloche hat ($150) and evening dresses with sequins ($80-$200).
Since vintage is increasingly precious, Foster fills in with “good, wearable stuff” like sweaters, Hawaiian shirts, Levi’s jackets and a small selection of men’s sport coats, though fewer men are wearing them nowadays.
One thing she does not carry: hoodies. “You can get those anywhere,” she said.
Far & Few, 1643 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley. Phone: 510-280-5265. Hours: Thursday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Connect via Instagram.
In the spotlight
Record-breaking number of biotech startups launched in Berkeley last year
Places like Stanford, MIT and Harvard have long been hubs of startup activity because such work takes place right outside their campuses, according to Elizabeth Redman Cleveland, the chief strategist of sustainable growth at the city’s Office of Economic Development. UC Berkeley, meanwhile, has remained more of an academic institution.
That is changing.
“Today you’re seeing a lot more of the innovation in Berkeley turning commercial and staying local to do so,” Redman Cleveland said.
That’s the good news from a report that Redman Cleveland presented to the Berkeley City Council last month. The report is a snapshot of data collected in the fourth quarter of last year, as well as some data from earlier in 2022.
It found a record-breaking, approximately 350 startups created last year in Berkeley, 100 more than in 2017, and that $1.5 billion from venture capital and government research and development grants went to just 66 of those companies.
In the last two years, a lot of capital has been going into biotech, Redman Cleveland said, and she has some theories as to why.
Because of the pandemic, “our world was woken up to the fact that biotech is part of the solution to addressing deadly diseases,” she said. Baby Boomers are also retiring and that’s caused an increased emphasis on health and wellness.
Some of the new startups include the 15 companies that have leased space at Bakar BioEnginuity Hub (BBH), which is expected to house up to 80 biotech companies. Among them: Umaro, which is developing ocean-farmed seaweed; Perlumi Chemicals, which uses biology to increase photosynthesis; Black Sheep Foods, a creator of plant-based meat substitutes; and Addition Therapeutics, which uses technology developed at Cal to develop safer gene therapies for medicine.
Locally, the City of Berkeley is also making it easier for R&D companies to open their doors here. On March 22, the City Council voted to change its zoning code to include a broader number of spaces where R&D can occur in West Berkeley, where such uses are permitted.
“Previously, our R&D zoning required laboratories and prohibited any office space, but that no longer makes sense in an age when cutting-edge scientific research is often conducted in an office setting,” City Council member Terry Taplin wrote in his district newsletter. Taplin said the change will benefit the new The Lab project that’s underway in West Berkeley and other projects.
“There are more than a dozen incubator/accelerator and scholarship-type programs supporting entrepreneurship activity in and around the Berkeley campus,” Redman Cleveland said. “With all these physical spaces and mentorship and coaching programs that UC Berkeley and the Bakar Lab are offering, more and more smart people, whether they be professors, students or post-docs, are turning their research and ideas into business. That’s exciting.”
In the spotlight West Berkeley
A groundbreaking CSA that started in 2009 holds a belated party for itself
Berkeley Basket was supposed to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2019 but never got around to it. The pandemic just postponed things further.
Now the nonprofit community-supported agriculture project (or CSA) that supplies fresh, organically grown fruit, vegetables and flowers to 21 Berkeley families will celebrate a belated anniversary and fundraiser from 3-5 p.m. Sunday, May 1, at 936 Hearst Ave., Berkeley, one of its three backyard growing fields. Since that is a private home, only 100 participants will be permitted.
Tickets are $50-$250. Registration is online. The event will include farm tours and light refreshments.
The CSA is now at capacity and cannot accept new members, but it does have a waitlist.
Joanne Furio moved to Berkeley because it has sidewalks. She specializes in design in all its incarnations, innovation and the arts.