Election Section

Holiday Gift Ideas From Two Berkeley Neighborhoods, and Then Some By ZELDA BRONSTEIN

Special to the Planet
Friday December 17, 2004

Elmwood District 


The goods at Global Exchange (2480 College Ave., 548-0370) are even more special than they look (which is pretty special). This is one of the three fair trade stores run by Global Exchange, an international human rights organization that works with communities across the country to build a greater awareness of global trade issues and to translate that awareness into Fair Trade activism by promoting exchange based on economic justice.  

Paying explicit homage to those goals, Global Exchange is selling “No Sweat” sweatshop-free sneakers made in unionized shops in Jakarta. Choose between Converse-style knock-offs in black and white ($38.50) and “Code Pink” high-tops in pink—what else? ($42)—or get and give some of both!  

Global Exchange has a large stock of exceptional scarves. Two standouts: gorgeous, naturally dyed, shimmery striped silk scarves made in women’s cooperatives in Laos and Thailand ($48-$68); and jewel-toned beauties knit out of silk sari scraps in India. Hats and gloves also available ($23.50).  

Also noteworthy are fanciful Haitian tin objects birds and geometrical shaps—made out of old oil drums ($32-$53).  


Your Basic Bird (2940 College Ave., 841-7617) has a huge selection of toys for all manner of pets. I was particularly charmed by the amusing (at least to this human) Polly Wanna Piñata biodegradable, bird-sized, eight-inch high paper piñatas filled with dehydrated banana, hemp seed and other avian goodies. Snowman, Santa, reindeer and candy cane shapes ($9.99).  


The Tail of the Yak Trading Company (2632 Ashby Ave., 841-9891) is always filled with extraordinary, exquisite things. Specially for Christmas: beautiful ornaments from Germany shaped like vegetables (artichokes, endive, garlic, nuts, peaches), fruits, birds with bushy tails, flowers, a string of acorns plus whimsical forms ($5-$40), as well as glass tree-toppers delicately rimmed with rows of hanging bells ($39). The Tail of the Yak also has excavated amber from West Africa ($50 a strand), Dosa purses made of sumptuous fabrics trimmed with lace ($190), and glass Petri dishes ranging from 1-1/4” to 10” in diameter, which make elegant storage containers ($5-$19). Much nicer than plastic boxes.  


At the Elmwood shopping district’s charming tea house, Far Leaves (2679 College Ave., 665-9409), you can get some of the best tea in the world at good prices. The teas, all from Taiwan and India, are personally selected by the shop’s owner. Craft Boxes, containing tea and biscotti or conserves ($15-$25) would make nice gifts. So would tea ($13.50-$27/oz.) and any of the store’s lovely tea pots and cups. Gift certificates available.  


For the robot fanciers on your gift list, check out Boss Robot Hobby (2953 College Ave., 841-1680). At this small but well-stocked shop, Ultraman Bad Guys—Kai Ju, in Japanese—can be had for $7.99 apiece or $48.99 for a bag of ten. Robocraft creatures by Tamiya include a rabbit, a beetle, a mouse and a walking triceratops, among others ($14). Boss Robot Hobby also has a range of Gundam model kits by Bandai ($10-$150). A child could take pleasure in building and maintaining one of the radio-controlled cars on sale here ($32.99 and up).  


Sweet Dreams, on the southwest corner of College and Ashby (2901A College Ave., 549-1211) has been making its own delectable candies for over thirty years and also sells candy from all over the United States. The shop has one of the best selection of handmade, sugar-free (sweetened with Sorbitol and Malitol) candies in the East Bay, including dark and milk chocolate, caramels, dark peanut butter cups (“To die for,” says the store’s owner), and milk chocolate pretzels. Gift boxes come in 1/2-lb., 1-lb., and 5-lb. sizes. For Christmas only, Sweet Dreams offers milk chocolate Santas filled with caramel (1/4 lb/$3, equals about nine or 10 Santas).  


North of the Elmwood District, at The Craftsman Home (3048 Claremont Ave., 655-6503), you can find Dianne Ayres’ fabulous Arts & Crafts period textiles. Ayres’ north Oakland studio fashions pillows, table linens, curtains and bedspreads out of flax canvas linen that is hand stenciled and then hand embroidered in pearl cotton or hand appliquéd. The motifs and some of the overall designs were created by Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Workshops and other original purveyors of Arts & Crafts furnishings. The Craftsman Home has a nice selection of Ayres’ pillows, adorned with stylized pine cones, ginkgos, roses, California poppies or other stylized motifs ($60-$220). Kits cost $45-$50. Ayres’ textiles can also be ordered through her website at www.textilestudio.com.  


Upper Solano Avenue  


Two great Solano sources for beautiful scarves are By Hand (1741 Solano Ave., 526-3212) and Persimmon (904 The Alameda, just around the corner from the top of Solano, 524-3220).  

By Hand’s big and varied stock includes 100 percent cashmere scarves, and stole-sized silk velvet, Pashmina styles in a silk cashmere blend or 100 percent silk jacquard priced at $18 to $165. Scarves of chenille, wool blends and lightweight silk are selling for $20 to $100. Also at By Hand are cotton/acrylic and acrylic gloves in a rainbow of colors, all with matching hats, and some with scarves to match ($20).  

Among the many notable scarves at Persimmon are the ones made of fine Indian wool with subtle, woven patterns ($24, $49). Others are fabricated out of “eyelash yarn” ($36). My favorite was a multicolored (tomato red with mustard fringe), slightly chunky and totally striking number from France in a wool blend ($48). Also at Persimmon: eye-catching, whimsical jewelled stick pins, key rings and tack pins made of resin in Israeli. Insects and teddy bears. A dragon fly pin has a long whiskery tail. Wonderful. (Pins $18, key rings $12).  


Harmonique Home (1820 Solano Ave., 559-3229) is a beautiful new boutique that stocks quality objects from around the world, with a focus on Asia. One of its most popular offerings is a box of tea bags made of silken mesh shaped like an elongated pyramid and topped with a stemmed leaf holder that can be hooked over a cup. Black, green or herbal varieties ($10 for a six-pack, $15 for a mixed set of 12). Harmonique also has one-of-a-kind pagoda-shaped offering bowls made in Burma of lacquered bamboo ornamented with gold leaf and tiny mirrored tiles. Produced in the early twentieth century, these striking vessels, 11”–28” high, were originally used as food receptacles ($40-$798). The Christmas tree in the shop is hung with a variety of fetching decorations, including pretty cloisonné ornaments from China in the shape of bells, stars, trees and angels ($8).  


Finally, if you’re looking for Christmas music, it’s hard to beat the vast selection at Down Home Music Store (10341 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito, 525-2129), which includes Christmas sounds rendered in jazz, rock ’n’ roll, folk, bluegrass, Motown, gospel, Latino, reggae, Norwegian, Slovenian—the list of choices goes on and on. One unclassifiable CD, recommended by a guy behind the counter, is Woody Phillips’ A Toolbox Christmas, featuring favorite carols played on hand and power tools. There must be somebody on your gift list who deserves this item.