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Berkeley Shops Offer Array Of Holiday Houseware Gifts

By Zelda Bronstein Special to the Planet
Friday December 12, 2003

Berkeley and its environs are known as a treasure trove of inimitable shops, each worth a visit. 

Let’s start with the hardware stores, for in Berkeley each one is unique. That’s because they’re Ace Hardware stores, members of a buying cooperative whose collective purchasing power enables its 5,000 participating businesses to get good prices but also allows them to buy from outside vendors, to display their merchandise as they please and to run their stores as they like. That’s a boon to holiday shoppers in search of interesting gifts.  


Bolfing’s Elmwood Hardware, 2951 College Ave. at Ashby. 843-3794.  

Where else in town can you get Pétards de Fête—beautifully wrapped favors to set beside each plate on your holiday table? Pull each end, and they open with a burst of sound, spilling out party hats, jokes and riddles and other cheering surprises. Made in Canada, the petards come in red and green for Christmas and blue and white for Chanukah. $18-$24.50 for boxes of eight or 10 in different sizes and colors. 

Everything your favorite environmentalist needs to clean green is in Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Basic Cleaning Kit. In either lavender or lemon verbena scent, this prettily packaged assortment of aromatherapeutic household cleaners includes biodegradable window cleaner, dish soap, furniture polish, all purpose cleaner and a soap bar. All hard-working yet gentle. $24.99. 

Wonderfully whimsical anthropomorphic plastic stands and holders for the kitchen and bath: a Tweety vegetable brush, a dish brush with human feet (must be seen to be fully appreciated), a warrior toothpick holder, among others. From Germany in a range of colors. $5-$14. 

Exceptionally good buys on assorted drill bit sets and driver bit sets by SKIL. $6-$13.  


Pastime Ace Hardware, 10057 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito. 526-6615.  

It’s cold out there! Help somebody special warm up with the new Longhi electric oil-filled radiator heater. Shorter and wider than the old style, with a built-in GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) that allows bathroom usage, three power settings and a 24-hour programmable timer. Good-looking white metal case on wheels. $89.99. 

Get a foot up (literally). Cute, colorful and convenient: the E-Z Foldz folding step stool in sturdy yellow, green, white, black, blue or red plastic. Bright colors are easy-to-find. Holds up to 300 lbs. $12.99. 

Barbeque anywhere! Weber has just come out with the Q portable gas grill. The large 280 sq. inch cooking surface is covered with a cast aluminum hood and flanked by two shelves that fold out to hold food and utensils. The Q operates on a 14.1 oz. propane cylinder controlled by a regulator that allows cooks to set the temperature just where they want it. $179.99.  


Berkeley Ace Hardware, 2145 University Ave. 845-0410.  

The Panther Vision Handsfree Lighted Eyeglasses, with two ultra-bright high intensity LED bulbs and 1.5 magnification, will put an end to groping when your fixing something under the sink or beneath the car. Handy in case of power outages, too. Includes 3-volt Lithium batteries. $26.99. 

For the gadget-lover who has almost everything, consider the Oregon Scientific Jumbo Exact Set Clock. Made in the U.S.A., this wondrous, radio-controlled invention automatically sets the time, day and date to the United States Atomic clock and displays a U.S. map with time zones. The three-inch-high numbers can be seen across a room. Also displays indoor and outdoor temperature. All this, plus a wake-up alarm and snooze bar. Runs on 4 AA batteries (included), measures 8” x 10”. $69.99. 

Finally—a way to hang pictures without having to climb up and down a ladder: The Black & Decker “Crosshair” Auto Laser Level” automatically provides perfectly vertical (plumb) and horizontal lines. A hanging pin fastens the Laser Level to the wall for hands-free convenience. Comes boxed with a 9V battery and a storage case with a belt loop. $54.99.  


Reprint Mint, 2484 Telegraph Ave. 841-9423.  

Now that you’ve purchased a gift laser level or two, why not get some hangable objects to go with them? You could start with the posters or prints from the Reprint Mint—the biggest bricks-and-mortar poster print and poster store in the country and probably in the world. Choose from among thousands of items in every conceivable category: classics, Asian, old ads, Latino, African-American, autos, music—the list could go on and on—and from among a range of quality and sizes in the same category and even the same prints. Each piece can be beautifully mounted on a sturdy wood backing, sealed with a clear lacquer (so it could go in a bathroom), braced, and fitted with a hanger. The wood backing makes a permanent, reasonably priced alternative to framing. Small mounted pieces start at about $13. Larger ones run from $30 to $100. And while you’re in the shop, you can choose from the Reprint Mint’s huge selection of cards to go with your gifts.  


Talavera Ceramics, 1805 University Ave. 665-6038.  

Here you’ll find more of the famous Talavera hand-crafted folkloric pottery from Mexico than anywhere else in the United States. Twelve different workshops, mostly family-based, and working in traditional designs, create tiles, mugs, pots, pitchers, plates, mirror frames, umbrella stands, urns, platters, fountains, sinks, drawer pulls and more, all hand-painted in rich blue, green, yellow, orange and russet reds. Calla lilies and sunflowers abound. Of special note: whimsical frog planters, curvaceous covered canisters and an exclusive line of tiles decorated with intricate botanical and geometric patterns. Lead-free, dishwasher- and microwave-safe. From $5 for a 2” square tile to $490 for an exceptional mirror, with many items priced under $50.  


Ninepatch, 2001 Hopkins St. 527-1700.  

This charming boutique is stocked with all manner of mermaids—mermaids of cloth, mermaids suspended in deep blue bounce balls, Peruvian pottery mermaids, mermaid mirrors, wind-up mermaids that shimmy forward on their stomachs as they look at their reflection in a mirrors. $2.50-$12. 

Add a peaceable glow to a Christmas tree or embellish a doorway yearlong with a string of dove lights. The sparrow-sized, dove-shaped bulbs cast a soft warm light. $20. 

Ninepatch has a nice assortment of Russian nested dolls (matrioschki) $8-$75. 

Unusual rustic red Chinese wooden boxes, hand-painted with floral motifs, can be used as keepsake boxes or for show. In a range of sizes. $28-$68. 


Bibelots, 2403 San Pablo Ave. 549-1091.  

Another fetching Berkeley boutique that’s off the beaten path, Bibelots has lavender wands made with estate-grown lavender from Sonoma. Victorian women wove such wands and used them to cure a headache or to gently scent a drawer of lingerie. Thirteen inches long, in soft yellow, cream, lavender, pink rose, green, or lavender. $39. 

Beautifully wrapped, embossed and perfumed soaps from Portugal come in a set of various violet or floral scents. The wrapping paper is so lovely that lucky recipients will be tempted to save it. $7 a bar, $40 a box.  

The prettiest neckrolls you’ll ever see are filled with buckwheat and lavender, covered in pale gold silk brocade and buttoned with mother-of-pearl. $20. 

Hand-tooled leather notebooks will delight a tasteful journal-keeper. From India in chestnut, green, brown, deep magenta. $20-$50. For $10, you can fill a notebook with beautiful papers infused with pressed flowers.