Merchants' Years of Service: Part 6

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Transports was started by Kei Kodani in 1982 in a small space above Barclay's Pub. Kei began the business selling camping and hiking equipment, and it seemed to complement the adjacent store that focused on running shoes. However, when that store went out of business, the salesmen providing that inventory convinced Kei, himself a runner, to carry their lines. Shortly thereafter, Kei moved a few doors up the street and next to the then-location of the Sierra Club bookstore where he remained for 20 years. When the Sierra Club closed the store in 2003, Kei took the opportunity to expand into the space, now his current quarters at 6014 College Avenue. Richie Boulet, one of the current owners, said that the business now caters to runners and swimmers, both entry level and serious athletes, including local high schools. Richie says that 90 percent of their clients are beginners who need help in picking out the right equipment, something the store specializes in. Transports also helps sponsor many races, including the East Bay Triple Crown. Stop in and get fitted.

Jan David Winitz opened Claremont Rug Company, 6087 Claremont Avenue, in 1980. His grandmother was an active collector, as were some of her friends. They would gather at her New York home and trade stories, rugs and knowledge while the young Winitz absorbed everything he could. There is no limit when you pair a good teacher with a curious and interested mind. After moving west and attending UC Berkeley, he began the business with his wife Christine, also a collector. The business grew steadily as Silicon Valley provided a great source of able collectors who could see the beauty of these "art level" rugs but needed expert guidance in the selection process. These rugs, made before 1900 with natural dyes by expert tribal weavers, were usually commissioned by an important family or for a special event. An average price in the five-figure range might seem incredible to some, but what is the value of something you will enjoy every day you look at it for the rest of your life? That's what Claremont Rug can provide.

Barney's, 5819 College Avenue, opened at that location in 1988. After five years on Piedmont Avenue, Albert Sarshar responded to Rockridge customers who wished he would move closer to them, so he did. He now has seven East Bay locations and over 100 employees, but it is still a family-owned and family-run business. Luckily, Albert's family is large. And if you guessed that Albert is Persian, you'd be right. He came to the U.S. at 16 and went directly into the food business, working his way up. He was always in love with food - and especially GREAT hamburgers - so he followed his heart. Barney's has received over 130 awards or citations for Best Hamburgers in the East Bay. In addition to daily fresh produce and meat - nothing frozen - the generous portions (intentionally aimed at families) make it possible to take the kids to dinner and not have to run twice to the ATM. Expanded seating inside and an outdoors, under-the-stars patio option gives diners plenty of room.

Rockridge Optometry first opened its doors to the community in 1946. The initial business was a few doors from its current location at 5321 College, where it has been since 1971. Dr. Morton Sarver was then joined by both of his sons - Don and Larry Sarver, also optometrists and also UC graduates. More recently, Drs. Scott Yokoi and Cindy Sakai have expanded this optometrist "family." Sue Dolan, office manager and an employee since 1973, told me that it is absolutely not true that they make Stanford alumni go to the end of the line, because they know those graduates need help - and need it quickly. And it can help to wear a Cal shirt to your appointment! I asked Sue why glasses were so expensive despite technological advances. She explained that lenses now are digitally manufactured so the entire lens is more functional than the older progressive lenses. Also, coatings for lens coloration have improved. As for repeat clients, Sue told me of a couple married 72 years who have been coming in for glasses more than 50 years. They still enjoy looking at each other, with a little help from Rockridge Optometry.

Pegasus Books, 5560 College Avenue, has been on the corner of Ocean View and College since 1970. Amy Thomas is the owner and another example of rising through the ranks from employee to owner. As an English major and with her Cal degree in hand, she marched into her favorite bookstore in Berkeley in 1969 and asked for a job. She got it - and now she owns it. The College Avenue branch, then called Pendragon, opened a year later. The store was recently expanded to occupy the entire corner building, with room for a small yet distinctive magazine section.

It's not always a good idea to look up when walking along College Avenue, but stop for a minute to enjoy the unusual parapet wall on top of the building: molded and painted concrete shields that complement Pegasus, the winged horse of Zeus protecting the entrance. Asked about the impact of Amazon.com, Amy says on-line shopping is great for many items, but hurts small, local businesses. She pointed out that if a customer spends $100 locally, $68 of those dollars stay in the community. Spent online, only $43 stays local. That's a pretty big deal: shop locally and support your community. And if you still need a 2015 calendar, look no further; Pegasus is known for its calendar sales offerings.