Neighborhood Shops & Such

Neighborhood Shops & Such

News about great shops in your neighborhood

Quit Quaking

With everyone from the USGS to amateurs on YouTube predicting a big Bay Area earthquake in the next 30 years, those who live alongside the Hayward Fault would be foolish not to take some precautions—and not simply buying extra water and canned tuna. For homeowners, this means retrofitting. For new homeowners or those who haven’t had their homes checked recently, Quake Busters, a 27-year-old Oakland company, can help. “Most foundations are fine,” Jerome Lenoir, owner of Quake Busters, says. “It’s the area between the floor and the foundation, the load path, that’s really important. If the floor’s not well-connected to the foundation, the home runs the risk of collapse.” The current standard requires preparing the house to withstand a 6.7 earthquake, the thought of which strikes fear into many an unprepared East Bay heart. The average cost for newly retrofitting a one-story house ranges from $6,000 to $12,000, and $8,000 to $15,000 for a two-story house, with some cities offering rebates to help offset the cost. Quake Busters, which offers a zero-interest payment plan and a free inspection, can also strengthen homes for less by doing a partial retrofit. It seems well worth shaking out your wallet to put your mind at ease about the quaking to come. And in addition to retrofitting, Quake Busters will give you tips on earthquake preparedness, tell you how to shut off the gas, and remind you not to forget the can opener—all the things you need to know just in case the earth starts to move.

Quake Busters, 675 37th St., Oakland, (510) 763-6933;


Meet the Mrs.

As the number of independent bookstores rapidly shrinks, it’s rare to see a shop expand. But that’s exactly what Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary & Garden Arts on College Avenue in Berkeley boldly did. When the neighboring Elmwood Health and Mercantile went out of business last year, Marion Abbott and Ann Leyhe, Mrs. Dalloway’s owners, saw an opportunity. They took over half of the old pharmacy’s space and doubled the size of their children’s section. Which—in a neighborhood full of young parents—is a pretty good bet for continued success.

“Our survival has a lot to do with luck and timing and the greatest location,” Abbott says. “We also realized that no other store in this area has the kind of gardening section we do. It’s important to have a niche.” Thanks to Leyhe’s history of working in publishing for horticultural magazines and books, Mrs. Dalloway’s has a large gardening section with plants, gloves, and seeds as well as books. Gardening and reading enthusiasts will find many plants that grow well in the Bay Area’s Mediterranean climate, as well as paperwhites for $1.25 a bulb, The Red Book by Carl Jung for $195, and a variety of fiction and nonfiction in between.

Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary & Garden Arts, 2904 College Ave., Berkeley, (510) 704-8222;


Brain Food

“You go to Peet’s every day and you buy coffee and a biscotti and it lasts you 30 minutes. You take a class at OLLI and it lasts you a lifetime,” says Berkeley’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) program coordinator Aileen Kim, echoing the sentiments of many a satisfied customer. Each term, OLLI offers a wide range of six-week courses taught by Berkeley faculty and other experts to folks with life experience—in other words, students over 50—who crave intellectual and creative stimulation with peers. At a time when many Baby Boomers are looking for ways to stay mentally limber, OLLI offers variety, novelty, and challenge—qualities experts say are needed to encourage neuroplasticity (new neural connections in the brain) as we age. Courses range from the very serious (Balancing Act: Medical Ethics and Health Care Reform; The Week’s News, Through an International Human Rights Lens) to more lighthearted (Joy of Singing; Creating Your Own Website). Memberships start at $50, with a $125 fee for a single course. For more dedicated scholars, a $700 all-inclusive yearly membership covers nine courses, plus discounted lectures and events. Classes are scheduled during the morning and afternoon on or near the U.C. Berkeley campus, with time for a collegial lunch in between. Best of all, no need to stress about your G.P.A.—there are no exams or grades.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI @Berkeley), University of California, 1925 Walnut St., Berkeley, (510) 642-9934;


Reading Rebirth

Once again, Berkeley’s upscale Fourth Street shopping district can count a highly regarded bookstore among its many entrepreneurial draws. The opening of a new Books Inc. last October lifted the spirits of readers who mourned the loss of Fourth Street’s beloved Cody’s Books in 2008. Now, the new kid on the block has established itself as a friendly face in the community, offering popular special events, book club meetings, and a wide range of quality publications to its neighbors.

Back in the ’90s, Books Inc. was forced to close eight of 13 regional stores due to the rise of superstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. “We had to reinvent ourselves very early if we wanted to survive,” says co-owner Margie Scott Tucker. The company learned quickly that staying small, keeping a close eye on inventory, and understanding their neighborhoods were key to keeping their doors open. Today, Books Inc. owns 11 stores in the Bay Area. Each has its own flavor and Tucker says she’ll be watching the new location carefully, with an eye toward the special desires of Fourth Street shoppers. As for the future, Books Inc. is building a growing collection of e-books online. “The industry is changing daily, but e-books are probably here to stay,” Tucker says. Meanwhile, the Fourth Street store offers a range of appealing tomes, physical and digital, for children and adults, as well as reading accessories. Prices range from $2.95 for a magnifying glass to $200 for a Matisse art book set.

Books Inc., 1760 Fourth St., Berkeley, (510) 525-7777;

Faces of the East Bay