College Avenue Commerce: Decades of Service, Part 7

Monday, March 9, 2015

• Yasai Market, at 6301 College Avenue, was opened in 1980 by John Amano. John's sister-in-law is the owner of Berkeley Bowl; John was raised in the vegetable business and worked at Berkeley Bowl before opening Yasai (which means vegetables in Japanese). John sold to current owners Michael and Bu Pak in 1992; they kept the name. When I spoke with Bu about the impact of the Safeway construction, the conversation topic drifted to competition. She reminded me that small stores aren't automatically noncompetitive. She recommended I do a price check, which I did on eight items, that could be put in a regular salad. Yasai was lower in price than Safeway on five of the eight items by about 15 percent. I like having a new Safeway store in our neighborhood, but shopping small and local means more money stays in the community, and can leave more money in your pocket, too. Rapid produce turnover, competitive pricing, good variety and small lines at the counter sound like a winning strategy, but go see for yourself.

•    Great Wall Chinese Restaurant, located at 6247 College Avenue, has been a Chinese restaurant since 1989 and now is owned by Kerry Yip, the second restaurant he has owned. Their extensive menu is all-vegetarian, and traditional chicken and pork dishes are actually made from soybeans. I had the spicy garlic "pork" with brown rice, and it was very good. The inside is bright and clean, with an extensive seating area that can handle large groups. Kerry said he is glad the new Safeway store has finally opened, so business and foot traffic can return to normal. Stores along this section of College Avenue have all been financially impacted these past 6 months, and can use your support. Stop in and try lunch, any day of the week.

•    Murasaki, the Japanese word for the color purple, opened at 6050 College Avenue in 1984 and is now managed by Sherry Yen. The business specializes in futons, the cotton mattress that rolls up. The futon has been in use for thousands of years, particularly in Japan where small living spaces are the norm. An American furniture maker in the 1970s created a folding bedframe to support the mattress, giving us the futon as we know it today. That design quickly began to replace our hide-aways, those bulky heavy items no one wants to move up a flight of stairs. Murasaki also offers sliding doors, custom made in Japan; movable shoji screens; material for clothing, tablecloths and napkins; and many other personal items. Business has been impacted by the Safeway construction at that corner, and Sherry is hoping for a return to normal. Stop in and take a look at the many distinctive items she has for sale.

•    The Pasta Shop began life in 1980 in the space now occupied by Barclay's Pub. Five years later, Sara Wilson purchased the shop when the owners decided to retire; she moved it into a new space at Market Hall. She saw the opportunity that the Pasta Shop could become the cornerstone for a variety of small food stores patronized by the abundant foot traffic that BART would provide. Fast forward 30 years to the present, and you would have to agree that was a successful vision. Add in the Bakery, Produce Shop and Hapuku Fish Market (see website for name history) and you have the current Market Hall food empire. The kitchen that supports both the Bakery and the Pasta Shop is located upstairs. Wilson is a landlord, tenant, and business owner; she owns the building with her two brothers and works in the business every day. Additionally, as a Rockridge resident of many years, she can see the various viewpoints that groups have and the challenge of trying to maintain a healthy balance while changes inevitably keep coming. In the meantime, she'll keep looking for those unusual salads that are a Pasta Shop signature.

•    Hank and Frank Bicycles took over Red's Bike Shop at 6030 College Avenue in 1986. Does anyone remember when Red's first opened on College? Hank and Frank have been in Oakland since 1925. Their first bike shop was opened on East 14th Street in 1925, with subsequent stores on Grand Avenue and in Lafayette. Ian Lautze now manages the store, and, naturally, bikes to work as often as he can. It's a large shop with plenty of inventory and choices. Sales include high-end mountain bikes and road bikes, but the bread and butter of the shop is the "hybrid," a cross between the two at a considerably lower price. The shop gets lots of locals coming in, but Ian believes the real draw is their lifetime free service which covers just about everything except flats and broken or worn-out parts. Spring appears to be here, so get on that bike, with a helmet please, and ride on down and check them out.