The Pleasures of Berkeley’s Fourth Street

By Dorothy Snodgrass, Special to the Planet
Tuesday January 15, 2008

For women of a certain age, and residents of the Bay Area, “doing Fourth Street” is a favorite activity—almost a monthly ritual.  

Although a relatively small area—no more than five or six blocks—one can easily while away an entire afternoon here, taking time out for lunch at Bette’s Diner, or Cafe Rouge (budget permitting).  

In sharp contrast to Telegraph Avenue and Elmwood, Fourth Street clearly attracts an upper-crust clientele. No Birkenstocks or blue jeans here; woman are dressed to the nines. In fact, I’m somewhat intimidated by those high-scale women’s apparel shops. I imagine the elegant saleswomen murmuring to themselves, “She must have picked that outfit up at The Dress Barn.” (I did NOT—I got it at Ross’s!)  

Anyway, back to Fourth Street with its incredible diversity of designer fashions, great restaurants and wonderful stores, such as Restoration Hardware. (I do wish they’d drop “Hardware”: this is most certainly not an Ace or True-Value type store.)  

Heading up the street, I drop in at my old favorites, Thousand Cranes and Castles in the Air, making a few modest purchases. Crossing the street, I pop into Sur La Table: A Cook’s Paradise, featuring handcraft kitchen tools and Le Creuset pots. Being a Marie Callender and Lean Cuisine type myself, this place is wasted on me. So I wander next door to “The Stained Glass Window,” lamenting that I lack the artistic ability to create something spectacular.  

Just down the street is The Gardener, a really lovely store. However, being an apartment dweller, I have no need of gardening tools and fertilizer.  

My next stop is a fairly new shop, La Folie, specializing in rather naughty black lingerie. I’ve noticed that husbands, dragged along by their wives and obviously bored silly, perk up in this store and spend considerable time looking at catalogs and selecting skimpy undergarments.  

Another store new to me is Flight 001, featuring travel items for jet- setters and avid cruise patrons, which I take these well-heeled shoppers to be.  

I’m always thrilled and relieved to see that Cody’s Book Store, on a busy corner, is alive and flourishing. I spend a good hour there checking new books and making a note of writers’ appearances, bemoaning the fact that I can no longer attend such events at the old Telegraph Avenue store.  

Having devoted myself almost exclusively to the “arty” businesses along Fourth Street, attention should be called to the more practical stores. For example, one couldn’t ask for better furniture stores. If sleek. modern design suits your taste, there’s Slater Marinoff.  

Or, if you tend towards the more opulent furnishings, head off in the other direction to Traditions, worthy of any Piedmont estate.  

Last but not least, I would urge you to visit Builders Booksource: “Books to inspire and teach on architecture, interior design, landscaping, and do-it-yourself construction.”  

So, as already mentioned, a visit to Fourth Street is always a delightful adventure. Even if you can’t afford the treasures on display, or if you give in to sinful pleasures, it’s nonetheless a glorious way to spend an afternoon.