College Avenue: Merchants' Years of Service, Part 5

Saturday, January 10, 2015

•    Duck Soup Family Playschool, 5304 Bryant Avenue at the Broadway end of College, is visible as the rainbow-colored home on the corner and known as "the cuddlesome place for children." Operating the playschool since 1980, Becca Rae Calato has been the owner and primary teacher since 1986 and lives in the home. While I was speaking with Becca Rae, I was also watching the children Ð ages 18 months to 3 years Ð return their emptied snack dishes to the sink, gingerly holding plates that teetered and were ever so close to falling, but not a one did. Manners, social skills and conflict resolution are what they learn here. I was initially taken aback with "conflict resolution" but, as Becca Rae put it, "when is there a better time to begin learning?" The school is licensed for up to 12 children, has a staff of two and a school day from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Yes, there is a waiting list but it's always good to call and check. Phone 653-7430 to learn more about the playschool.

•    Rockridge Rags, 5711 College Avenue, is celebrating 37 years on the Avenue and the ownership of Ijeoma Thomas and Pauline Philexome, who both worked there for 20 years before purchasing the business. Rockridge Rags is one of the few consignment stores that offer consigners 50 percent of the sales price. Consigned items are thoroughly reviewed for both style and condition before being accepted. Even though our seasons are mild, we do have them. The owners recognize this and adjust their offerings accordingly. Both men's and women's clothing is accepted for consignment. Slow-moving inventory is marked down after six weeks for speedier sale. Now is their busiest time of the year; they have a great location and occupy two store fronts, allowing ample room for display and shopping. Stop in and save some money. (I saw some nice flannel shirts that could have come from my closet. I better check with my wife... perhaps they did!)

•    Zachary's Pizza has won over 170 awards for best pizza and 30 from East Bay Express alone. Started by Zack Zachowski (now you know) and Barbara Gabel in 1983, the location at College and Oak Grove avenues was their first. If you have driven by on almost any evening, you can see that this business must be doing a lot of things right. Even though the seating area has expanded into adjacent storefronts over time, it can still be difficult for customers to find seats. The business is now 100 percent owned by the employees, who bring the same passion Zack and Barbara did for great pizza, great service, and great attitude. Many employees have exceeded 20 years of service. The current CEO started as a dishwasher in the 1980s, so meritocracy is alive and well here. With. half-baked pizzas to go, $4 by the slice, or sitting down at a table, they make it easy for us to enjoy this American passion. As they say, follow your nose, or go to 5801 College Avenue to find them.

•    Shun Yang is the owner of Itsy-Bitsy at 5520 College Avenue. Located on Piedmont Avenue before moving to Rockridge in 1989, the store celebrates its 25th anniversary here this year. It specializes in "the little things," as the name suggests. Its clientele ranges from young girls to older women, anyone from 8 to 100, as Shun says, who wants to have fun with jewelry and fashion accessories, with price points to match. Shun also supports local artists and companies such as Freeform Industries here in Oakland that use a 3D printer to make its jewelry, including Oakland's iconic shipping cranes seen on a recent cover of Oakland Magazine. Who would have thought earrings and necklaces could be made from a printer? Amazing stuff.

•    Pavé Fine Jewelry Design, 5496 College Avenue, is entering its 32nd year on College. Owner and designer Michael Endlich was trained as a diamond polisher and setter, did trade work for other jewelers, then went on his own in a small space on College Avenue. He recently opened a second store on Berkeley's Fourth Street and has 21 employees. As you stroll along browsing windows, you'll find it even more fun inside, where you can get a closer look at his design that won the 2015 Award for Platinum Honors, Bridal Wear. This award, given by the American Gem Trade Association, is considered the most prestigious award for U.S. designers. Custom work can also involve adapting older family heirlooms into a more modern fashion, if desired, or repairing them for continued use. My favorite example was the Tourmaline, a semi-precious gemstone from at least the 1500s, captured in a yellow gold necklace. You can try it on for free, but after that, you're on your own.

•    Ye Olde Hut (also called The Publik House, or just "The Hut) occupies the building originally known as Vernon Rock-Ridge Hall, which has been on College Avenue since its construction in 1913. It has seen some changes over time. Located at 5515 College Avenue, the front of the original building has been extended toward the sidewalk and its side windows removed as adjacent buildings closed in, but the inside is very much like the old photos, including a wonderful stone fireplace in the middle of the room, now bricked over but still operational. Built by the Vernon Rock-Ridge Improvement Club as a community center, the building is still hosting crowds 103 years later. You will not feel crowded here as there is ample room for the pool table in the back and a ping-pong table up front, with walking around room left over.

Google Vernon Rock-Ridge Hall to find photos of the outside and news reports of the day about the planning and construction of the building. (See photo and additional reference material, page 1.)

•    Shannon Dorsey is a dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneur, like so many other College Avenue business owners. After having a lemonade stand as a kid, then a fruit juice effort followed by natural foods, she saw the light and moved into body lotions and massage, opening aboutface&body. She started in Berkeley years earlier, then moved to 3190 College Avenue in 1989. Foot traffic was what she needed for her innovative new services including waxing, which wasn't done commercially in the East Bay then. Women had to drive to San Francisco, and spend a lot more money, to get this service. She added the Aveda product line, special facials, and body treatments because it's not just the products and services, but the experience as well. Shannon reports that many men are customers for waxing. Walk-ins are welcome.