Ashley Ford, owner of Berkeley's Neeko, had been working in retail for most of her adult life before she got the opportunity to open her own boutique. "I have always known I wanted a store. I drew a floor plan for my make-believe store when I was 10," she said. It has taken some time, but Ford made her make-believe come true, when she opened Neeko's doors in 2015.
The store is on San Pablo Avenue, and Ford said she has "dug [the] Easy Bay vibes" ever since she moved here from Indiana. She happened upon the space—which used to be a roller derby shop—on Craigslist. As a bonus, the prior owners gave her a pair of skates when she took over the space. The location has been a boon to business, as it's situated, as Ford noted, with "everything in walking distance. We have Berkeley Bowl, coffee shops, and restaurants all within a couple minutes' walk."
Neighborhood aside, the good stuff is what's in stock at Neeko. Ford keeps the boutique stocked with new and vintage clothing and accessories as well as jewelry, bags, and home goods. These days, Ford has noticed "easy to throw on and go pieces" are selling well and singled out Bay Area-made caftans by Ginger Caftan ($158) and soft cotton tunics by NYC-based brand Uzi as well as jumpsuits and wear-with-anything sweaters as good sellers. Since working in the business, Ford has learned "to always be open and evolving," and the pieces she keeps Neeko stocked with are a reflection of her personal tastes and her customer's desires. "My favorite thing to witness is when [I] see someone fall in love when a piece. Their eyes get big and wide and it's just great," she said.
Though running Neeko is challenging at times—"there's no clocking out for us," she said—she's still gearing up for the holiday season. The store will be hosting several pop-ups (featuring local designers) until the end of the month and will also participate in The Shops Sale at Temescal Brewery, a twice-yearly event in which several local stores offer deep discounts.
Above all, Ford maintained she "wanted to create a safe haven for women to come in and feel good about themselves. It's very important to me that no one is intimidated by price tags or to touch things." Ford is committed to keeping the store "always changing, and fresh."
Visit Neeko at 2505 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; find Neeko online at www.ShopNeeko.com and on Instagram @shopneeko.
A recent addition to Lakeshore Avenue in the Grand-Lake neighborhood, Bay-Made is a welcome addition to the community. Owned by Sarajane Bernhisel and her partner, Schuyler McAllister, Bay-Made is an art gallery-cum-shop and carries, as you'd suspect in its name, all things made in the Bay Area.
Bernhisel formerly worked as a buyer and manager at Adventure Toys (just next door to Bay-Made's storefront) and said part of the inspiration for opening the store was that many of Adventure Toys' customers would ask if they "carried anything local" and often lamented "that there wasn't a single location nearby where you could just go get locally made things."
Having lived and worked in the neighborhood for years, Bernhisel and McAllister decided the time was right to establish a presence and opened Bay-Made's doors on Sept. 29. "The location just happens to be perfect," Bernhisel said. "You get a little bit of everybody and everything . . . There's also a little something for everyone here; truly a one-stop shop location, whether you need a cobbler for your shoes, to pick up your dry-cleaning, groceries, or some fresh pizza."
Bernhiesel, an artist in her own right (she sold cards and prints of her illustrations on Etsy for many years), used her connections in the craft world to stock the store. "Schuyler and I reached out to many of our friends to get the first round of merchandise for the store," Bernhisel said. "Many brands and makers I 'boothed' next to while at the same craft fair or I went to art school with them. I also have been finding various makers on social media.
"Mostly," Bernhiesel said, "I'm looking for originality and quality—the people of the Bay Area really can make some amazing things, so there's no shortage of talent." This is conveyed by what's in stock at Bay-Made, which includes Dandelion Chocolate, Oaktown Spice Shop, and Bicycle Coffee, as well as ceramics by Alexandra Barao and jewelry by Sophie Silverstein. Bay-Made also offers creative workshops (block printing and beginning drawing, for example).
Bernhisel and McAllister are excited to see Bay-Made grow. They plan on establishing a web shop and for the holidays they are having a $100 art show at Bay-Made where everything on the gallery wall will be priced at $100 and will be ready to be taken home as a gift. Of utmost importance, however, is Bay-Made's dedication to sharing "with our community the creative abilities of our friends and neighbors, and to connect artists with the people that wish to support them."
Visit Bay-Made at 3295 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland; online at www.Bay-Made.com; and on Instagram @baymadeoakland.
Last-minute holiday shoppers, fear not: Avoid the rush of people at the mall and head to Temescal Brewing in Oakland on Dec. 17 for the Holiday Pop-Up Market. The brewing company will host a small-scale craft fair featuring some wonderful local vendors. Pick up something unique for the special person in your life from a range of makers, such as handmade rings, necklaces, and other unique jewelry by Tess Young, modern folk art (original prints and T-shirts) by Felicia Gabaldon, ceramics by Berkeley-based Essa Clay, home goods by Akela Designs, and so much more.
The pop-up, which has become a regular presence in Temescal Brewing's courtyard, presents an opportunity to connect with community and try some local beers. Learn more at www.Facebook.com/events/1172578636165244.
Neeko in Berkeley stocks throw-on-and-go pieces such as sweaters, caftans, tunics, and jumpsuits. Photo courtesy of Neeko.