Best of the Bay 2012 Editors Picks: Shopping

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Best Fresh Prep: Asmbly Hall
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY BRITTANY M. POWELL

Best of the Bay 2011 Editors Picks: Shopping

BEST CHARGE AHEAD

Though electric bikes far outnumber cars in communities from China's crowded cities to mountainous towns in the Swiss Alps, they have yet to catch on here in the States. Regardless of the reason, and despite SF's hilly terrain — quite possibly the perfect venue for the bikes' charms — the owners of New Wheel make this list for sheer entrepreneurial derring-do. Karen and Brett Thurber went ahead and opened the city's first e-bike-focused store, where they also do repair, hawk sleek Euro-designed accessories, and host the neighborhood's first e-bike charging station. The station, designed as a gas pump from that not-so-distant era when we needed to drive cars to work (we are writing you from the future), also charges cell phones, digital cameras, and more — quite the charge for the Bernal Heights community.

420 Cortland, SF. (415) 524-7362, www.newwheel.net

 

BEST FRESH PREP

Guardian photo by Brittany M. Powell

Holy Vampire Weekend, Kanye — no need to waste your time drooling over the archives of Street Etiquette, the sharpest neo-preppy style blog of our time. Fulfill your up-to-the-minute Ivy League-ish yearnings (with a dash of street-level snazz) at Asmbly Hall, the Fillmore men's and women's clothing shop for the sophisticated prepster. The natty clothes aren't priced too outrageously (button-down shirts are around $80), and familiar classics are tweaked with unique elements like scalloped collars and stripy inseams. Husband-wife owners Ron and Tricia Benitez have reworked an old mattress store into an absolutely lovely space with brick walls and blond wood floors. Here's where you'll score that funky two-tone cardigan, irreplaceable Macarthur shirt, or dreamy summer beach dress. You'll have to supply your own air of undergrad gravitas.

1850 Fillmore, SF. (415) 567-5953, www.asmblyhall.com

 

BEST SHUTTERBUG SECRET

Hidden in a corner of the beloved Rooky Ricardo's Records store is the domain of Glass Key Photo owner and photography enthusiast Matt Osborne. From a funky wedge of floor space, Osborne offers a top-notch, well-edited, and cheap selection of cameras, film, and darkroom gear. Much of his treasure is stored in an old-school refrigerator case, making for an appealingly bizarre shopping experience. Customers thirsty for hard-to-find photographic gear should check out Glass Key before the bigger-name stores — even if the refrigerator doesn't hold the key to your photographic fantasies, Osborne is happy to special order what he doesn't have. He also earns rave reviews for his camera repair skills, and sells root beer to thirsty shutterbugs.

448 Haight, SF. (415) 829-9946, www.glasskeyphoto.com


BEST VINTAGE MEGAVAULT

It is no secret that San Francisco has thrifting issues. Due to the admirable commitment to cheaply bought fashion (and high incidence of broke, under-employed drag queens), most of our used clothing stores are heavily picked over — or well-curated, with ghastly price tags to match. Those sick of fighting could do worse than steer their Zipcars north. In Sebastopol sits Aubergine, a high-ceilinged mega-vault stuffed with vintage slips, half-bustiers — clearly geared toward the Burning Man strumpet — menswear, and the occasional accessibly priced Insane Clown Posse T-shirt. Racks on racks on racks on racks — and if you need a break from bargain browsing, you're in luck. The shop has its own cafe and full bar, where many nights you'll find live music from gypsy dance to jazz drumming.

755 Petaluma, Sebastopol. (707) 827-3460, www.aubergineafterdark.com

 

BEST BLEMISH-VANISHING BOTANICS

The charming, chatty cashiers at the Benedetta Skin Care kiosk in the Ferry Building have clear, shiny skin, but it's not due to the local produce from the farmers market outside. Based in the Petaluma, Benedetta offers organic, botanics-based, sustainably packaged products that actually work. Take a tip from your freshly scrubbed lotion sellers: rather than loofah-ing your skin to a pulp with packaged peroxides that — let's face it — sound kind of scary when you actually read the fine print, refresh with the line's perfectly moist Crème Cleanser that leaves skin smelling like a mixture of rosemary and geranium. From anti-aging creams to deodorants and moisturizing mist sprays, this small company offers treats for all skin types — perfect for popping in next to your small-producer cheese wheels and grass-fed charcuterie.

1 Ferry Building, SF. (415) 263-8910, www.benedetta.com

 

BEST TOME TRADE

Interested in perpetuating a bibliophilic mythos among your houseguests? Turned on by the image of sitting quietly by a roaring fireplace, sipping a brandy, and reading Kafka amid towers of dusty tomes? Well, the Bay Area Free Book Exchange has those tomes for you to own. Since its opening in 2009, the Exchange has given away more than 245,000 free books for the sole joy of making knowledge accessible in book form. The nonprofit is run by a collection of book-lovers in El Cerrito who sell some of the donated volumes on eBay in order to pay rent, electricity, and other expenses. The rest of the stories, however, make their way to the Exchange's storefront, where every weekend customers are invited to take up to 200 titles at once. Stock your bathroom with freaky medical guides? Actually read the books you snap up? We'll let you work out the ethics on your own.

10520 San Pablo, El Cerrito. (510) 705-1200, www.bayareafreebookexchange.com

 

BEST INDIE KITCHEN MENAGERIE

Guardian photo by Godofredo Vasquez/SF Newspaper Co.

It can be hard to beat the sheer variety offered by your Ikeas and Bed Bath & Beyonds when it comes to fresh new flatware or an upgrade on your trusty college-era rice cooker. Lucky for local business fans (which we assume you are if you're this deep into our Best of the Bay issue), there's a little-guy alternative: Clement Street's Kamei Restaurant Supply. Kamei has dishes for every occasion: light blue earthenware plates with fetching designs of cherry blossom trees, coffee mugs shaped like barn owls and kitty cats, tea sets, sake sets, and every cooking utensil a chef could desire — plus paper umbrellas with koi fish prints and flip-flops. Maybe 'cuz with all the savings you'll spot in Kamei, you'll be able to afford more beach trips.

525 Clement, SF. (415) 666-3699

 

BEST CUMMUNITY CENTER

Guardian photo by Amber Schadewald

Nenna Joiner's done a number on us. In a Bay Area full of superlative sex shops, her Feelmore510 — which opened a year and a half ago — has run away with our sex-positive souls. What makes her business stand out? It could be her rainbow of pornos (Joiner herself makes skin flicks that have an emphasis on racial, sexual, and body-type diversity) or, it could be the pretty store design, with erotic art displayed in the shop's plate-glass windows. You'll often find Joiner at her store as late as 1:30am: besides outfitting her customers with stimulating gear, she hosts in-store sex ed lectures and movie screenings. "Sex is a basic need for survival," she told the Guardian in an interview earlier this year. We agree, and that's why Feelmore510's a new East Bay necessity.

1703 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 891-0199, www.feelmore510.com


BEST AU NATUREL FOR OENOPHILES

Much of the wine we drink is stuffed full of chemical preservatives. Purists like wine critic Alice Feiring have raised a hue and cry over the industry's reluctance to force producers to label these ingredients. We have to give it up to a little shop off of Polk Street for supporting the so-called "natural wine" movement which encourages additive-free imbibement. Biondivino is charming enough in its own right: library-style shelves full of luscious Italian pours, among which proprietor Ceri Smith has made sure to include many natural wines. And because these bottles tend to be produced by small scale vineyards, Biodivino helps support the little guys, too. Sure, sometimes all you can spring for is a bottle of three-buck Chuck (natural wines can be pricey) — but props to Smith for giving consumers the choice.

1415 Green, SF. (415) 673-2320, www.biondivino.com

 

BEST DIY PANDA BAIT

"If just owning a bamboo bike was the end goal, we'd just build them for you," said Justin Aguinaldo in a Guardian interview back in February. "For us, it's about empowering more people and providing them with the value of creating your own thing." Aguinaldo's Tenderloin DIY cycling hub Bamboo Bike Studio doesn't just produce two-wheeled steeds whose frames are made of easily-regenerated natural materials — it teaches you useful bike-making skills so that you can be the master of your own self-powered transportation destiny. Buy your bike parts (kits start at $459), and then get yourself to tinkering. After a weekend-long session with Bamboo Bike Studio's expert bike makers, you'll have a ride that's ready for the hurly-burly city streets.

982 Post, SF. www.bamboobikestudio.com

 

BEST LITERARY VALHALLA

For lovers of esoteric literature, 2141 Mission is a dream come true. The unassuming storefront (the building's ground floor is occupied by the standard hodgepodge of Mission District discount stores) belies a cluster of alternative bookstores on its upper levels. Valhalla Books is flush with titles in their debut printing; Libros Latinos holds exactly that; lovers of law history will find their joy in the aisles of Meyer Boswell; and the building's largest shop, Bolerium Books, holds records of radical history — volumes and magazines that together form a fascinating look at the gay rights, civil rights, labor, and feminist movements (and more!). Most visitors make the pilgrimage with something specific in mind, but walk-ins are welcome as long as they have a love of the printed page.

Bolerium Books, No. 300. (415) 863-6353, www.bolerium.com; Libros Latinos, No. 301. (415) 793-8423, www.libroslatinos.com; Meyer Boswell, No. 302. (415) 255-6400, www.meyerbos.com; Valhalla Books, No. 202. (415) 863-9250

 

BEST EXQUISITE ADZES

Some chefs drool over the copper pots at posh cooking stores. Artists lovingly caress the sable brushes in painting shops. But what aspirational retail options exist for the you, the craftsman? Home Despot? Perish the thought! Luckily, your days of retail resentment are over. At the Japan Woodworker, you can fondle high-end power tools to deplete your paycheck, plus tools hand-made in traditional Japanese style — like pull saws, chisels, and adzes — which are not only beautiful, but quite affordable. If you're the type of person who savors doing things the slow way, the tools found here will do much to imbue your projects with love and care. And if you're not, perhaps it's time you paid a little more attention to detail — a very Japanese value, indeed.

1731 Clement, Alameda. (510) 521-1810, www.japanwoodworker.com

 

BEST BUSHELS OF BUDS

Ever rolled your eyes at the endless articles on flower arranging found in home magazines — as if you had the money or the time? Then you might be due for a visit to the San Francisco Flower Mart. The SoMa gem sells cut flowers of every description at wholesale prices, making it the perfect playground for those looking to get plenty of practice, per-penny, poking stems into vases. And if your Martha Stewart moment doesn't seem imminent, there are plenty of other fixin's — giant glass balls, decorative podiums, fish tanks, driftwood, grosgrain ribbons, flamingo-themed party supplies — to rifle through. It's the perfect place to while away your lunch break: it smells great, and it even has a perky little cafe to caffeinate your midday visit.

640 Brannan, SF. (415) 392-7944, www.sfflmart.com

 

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD FIXTURES

Photo by Godofredo Vasquez/SF Newspaper Co.

Hey, you with the dreams of a better bathroom! There's no need to put up any longer with that cracked toilet bowl, that faulty faucet, that perma-grody bathtub, or that shower head that suddenly switches into "destroy" mode at the worst possible moment (i.e. right in the middle of herbal-rinsing your long, lustrous hair). Head down — or direct your responsible landlord down — to the cluster of independent home supply stores at the intersection of Bayshore Avenue and Industrial Street in Bayview-Hunter's Point. There you'll find K H Plumbing Supplies, a huge family-owned and operated bathroom and kitchen store with everything you need to fulfill your new fixture fantasies. The staff is extra-friendly and can gently guide you toward affordable options in better-known name brands. Even if you have only a vague idea as to which of the thousand bath spouts will reflect your unique personality, they'll find something for you to gush over.

2272 Shafter, SF. (415) 970-9718

 

BEST GET LIT

Back in college, you probably had that friend who dressed up as a Christmas tree on Halloween and had to dance near a wall outlet all night so he could stay plugged in. Or ... maybe you didn't. Either way, costumes that light up are no longer just for burner freaks and shortsighted frat bays. With a little help from Cool Neon, anyone can get lit in an affordable el-wire wrapped masterpiece of their own creation. Wanna cover your car with LEDs? This place can do it. Creative signage for your business? No problem for these neon gods. And even if you're just missing the sparkly, lit-up streets of the holiday season, Cool Neon can oblige: its Mandela Parkway façade is a light show in itself.

1433 Mandela, Oakl. (510) 547-5878, www.coolneon.com


BEST ART SQUAWK

Sure, on any given Sunday the Rare Bird is flush with vintage duds for guys and gals, antique cameras, birdhouses, jewelry, and trinkets. But for all you birds looking to truly find your flock, fly in to this fresh store on third Thursdays during the Piedmont Avenue Art Walk. Rare Bird proprietress Erica Skone-Reese hatched the event a year ago, and has chaired the art walk committee ever since, giving all those art-walk lovers who Murmur, Stroll, and Hop (all names of Bay Area art walks, for the uninitiated) a place to home in between first Fridays. Can't make it when the Ave.'s abuzz? No worries. Rare Bird curates an always-changing list of featured artisans — like Featherluxe, who'll fulfill your vegan feather-extension needs should you have them — and recently began offering classes in all art forms trendy and hipster, from terrarium making to silhouette portraiture.

3883 Piedmont, Oakl. (510) 653-2473, www.therarebird.com

 

BEST PLACE TO STASH YOUR NERDS

Got nerdy friends you just can't understand? Feel bad asking them to explain, for the tenth time, the difference between RPG, GMT, MMP, and D&D? WOW them with a trip to Endgame. Not only will they find others who speak their language, but — because they can spend hours browsing board games, card games, toys, and trinkets — you'll have them out of your hair ... at least until you can look up what the heck they're talking about on Urban Dictionary. Add an always-open game room, plus swapmeets, mini-cons, and an online forum, to equal more nerd-free hours than you can shake a pack of Magic Cards at. Just be careful you don't find yourself lonely, having lost your dweeby mates to Endgame's undeniable charms. Or worse: venture in to drag them out and risk being won over, yourself.

921 Washington, Oakl. (510) 465-3637, www.endgameoakland.com

 

BEST KNOBS OF GLAMOUR

In addition to being part of a string of friendly neighborhood hardware stores, Belmont Hardware's Potrero Hill showroom brims unexpectedly with rooms of fancy doorknobs, created by the companies who design modern-day fittings for the likes of the White House and the Smithsonian. A gold-plated door handle with an engraving of the Sun King? A faucet set featuring two crystal birds with out-stretched wings, vigilantly regulating your hot and cold streams of water? It's all at Belmont Hardware. With a broad range of prices (you can still go to them for $10 quick-fix drawer knobs and locks, don't worry) and an even broader scope of products, Belmont represents a world where hardware can inspire — check out the local chain's four other locations for more ways to bring the glory home.

Various Bay Area locations. www.belmonthardware.com

 

BEST ONE-UP ON INSTAGRAM

The square aspect ratio and grainy filters of everyone's favorite $1 billion photography app turn perfectly good shots crappy-cool with the swipe of a finger, allowing smart phone users everywhere to take photos way back. But to take photos way, way back, you have to be in the Mission for a tintype portrait at Photobooth. These old-timey sheet-steel images were once popular at carnivals and fairs; even after wet plate photography became obsolete, tintypes were deemed charmingly nostalgic — a sort of prescient irony that pre-dated hipsterism yet neatly anticipated it. Perhaps that same appreciative irony applied to the tintype's tendency — due to long exposure time — to make subjects look vaguely, yet somehow quaintly, sociopathic. Or, as the Photobooth website delicately puts it, "Traditionally, tintypes recorded the intensity of the individual personality."

1193 Valencia, SF. (415) 824-1248, www.photoboothsf.com

 

BEST REALITY TV-STYLE SCORES

Gold Rush Alaska? Deadliest Roads? Swamp Life? Though you love 'em, it's hard to apply what you've learned during those late-night trashy-television-and-junk-food binges. But fans of Storage Wars and American Pickers, rejoice! At the Santa Cruz Flea Market, you'll meet folks who locker for a living and travel hours to sell their scores — everything from fur coats to antique fuel tanks. Pick through yourself to see what invaluable treasures turn up: belt-driven two-seater motorcycle? Check. Handmade blown glass, Civil War memorabilia, bootlegger's copper still? Check, check, check. Come for the farm-fresh produce, aisles of leather boots, plastic whosee-whatsits and electronics of dubious provenance, or, if Man Versus Food is more your style, challenge a massive stuffed baked potato or shrimp ceviche tostada.

Fridays, 7am; Saturdays, 6am; Sundays, 5:30am; $1-$2.50. 2260 Soquel, Santa Cruz. (831) 462-4442, www.scgoodwill.org

 

BEST HOGWARTS GREENHOUSE FOR MUGGLES

They may not scream when you uproot them or ensnare you with insidious vineage, but the exceptional succulents, epiphytes, and bromeliads at Crimson Horticultural Rarities will certainly tickle your fancy — in a perfectly harmless way. Find everything necessary to cook up an enchanted garden or adorn your dorm room (four-poster bed not included) in singular style. Proprietresses Leigh Oakies and Allison Futeral indulge your desires with oddities ranging from the elegant to the spectacular to the slightly creepy, and will even apply their botanical wherewithal to help you create a whimsical wedding. Or, if your potions kit needs restocking, Crimson can supply sufficient dried butterflies and taxidermied bird wings to oblige you. (Collected, cruelty-free, from California Academy of Sciences.)

470 49th St., Oakl. (510) 992-3519, www.crimsonhort.com


BEST POLKA PURVEYOR

Though Skylar Fell fell in love with the squeezebox via a happy exposure to the punks of the East Bay's Accordion Plague back in the 1990s, she knows to pay homage to the masters. Fell apprenticed with master repairman Vincent J. Cirelli at his workshop in Brisbane (in business since 1946!) and at Berkeley's now-defunct Boaz Accordions before opening Accordion Apocalypse in SoMa. The shop, which both sells and repairs, also stocks new and antique instruments in well-known brands (to accordionists, that is) Scandalli, Horner, Roland, and Gabanelli. Fell will fix you up if you bust a button on your beloved accordion, and she has made her store into a hub for lovers of the bellows — check out the website for accordion events coming up in or out of the city.

255 10th St., SF. (415) 596-5952, www.accordianapocalypse.com

 

BEST ILLUMINATI

Situation: You've just moved into a new place, only to look up and discover that the previous owner somehow Frankensteined three different desk lamps from the more aesthetically challenged end of the 1990s into a living room light fixture. It must die. Worse: Your aunt just gifted you the most generic Walmart wall sconces ever for your housewarming present, and she is coming to stay next month. Perhaps worst of all: You've just discovered a gorgeous 1930s pendant lamp in the basement, but it's banged up terribly and who the heck knows if it works? Solution to everything: the wizards at Dogfork Lamp Arts, headed by owner Michael Donnelly. Services include restoring and rewiring antique lamps and light fixtures, and even reinventing ugly ones — making glowing swans of your awkward mass-market ducklings. (We discovered Dogfork's magic at the new Local's Corner restaurant in the Mission, where a pair of Pottery Barn lamps were transformed into wonderfully intriguing, post-steampunk sconces.) Rip out that gross track lighting and put up something unique.

199 Potrero, SF. (415) 431-6727, www.dogfork.com

 

BEST STYLE FOR APOCALYPSE SURVIVAL

Triple Aught Designs fills a post-North Face niche almost too-perfectly: the outdoor apparel company is locally based (it's headquartered in the Dogpatch) and personable (the recently opened outlet in Hayes Valley offers a friendly, intimate shopping experience). It is also light-years ahead in terms of tech and design: hyper-strong micro-thin jackets and hoodies in futuristic battleground colors so styley we'd seriously consider sporting them on the dance floor, plus elbow armor and space pens that zip right past wilderness campouts and into Prometheus territory. We're particularly enamored of the Triple Aught backpacks — these strappy beauts could have been nabbed from a boutique on Tatooine, a perfect look for riding out the coming apocalypse.

660 22nd St.; 551 Hayes, SF (415) 318-8252, www.tripleaughtdesign.com

 

BEST SPLASH OF GREEN

Guardian photo by Godofredo Vasquez/SF Newspaper Co. 

Need a bit of gentle encouragement before you open your home to an exquisite orchid? Will it take a little nudge before carnivorous pitcher plants share space with your beloved ironic porcelain figurines? Maybe a delicate hand is called for when it comes to developing a chic terrarium habit. Michelle Reed, the owner of indoor plant paradise Roots, has no problem with all that — her gorgeous little boutique is there to help green up your apartment and let the sunshine in. Besides delectable, mood-brightening plants for your inner sanctum, the store also stocks a healthy selection of local art to elevate your interior design aesthetic, as well as a neat array of planters and supplies (we're in love with the heart-shaped wall planters that look like little light sconces). Let your tight, high-rent space breathe a little easier with help from Roots' little friends.

425 S. Van Ness, SF. (415) 817-1592