A group of Berkeley-based home improvement businesses has joined forces in an effort to encourage shoppers to buy local and support independent stores.
“It’s thinking about the source,” said Stephen Meyer, acquisitions manager at Ohmega Salvage, one of the 26 founding members of the West Berkeley Design Loop, which is launching officially on Saturday with an activities-packed, all-day event (see details below). The goal, said Meyer, is to have people shop for their home needs as they might shop for food at the farmers market.
West Berkeley has the highest concentration of independent home improvement retailers in the Bay Area. The merchants who make up the Design Loop range from lighting manufacturers to lumber suppliers, from tile shops to hardware stores. There are furniture and design spots like The Gardener, True Modern and Mignonne Decor, as well as bedding specialists like Earthsake and Keetsa Mattress, and bookstore Builders Booksource. Geographically, they are located in a loop taking in San Pablo Avenue, Ashby Avenue, 7th St., Hearst Street, Eastshore Highway, and Gilman St. (see map).
As the store owners put it, it’s possible to furnish and build a home from the ground up with the resources offered right here in Berkeley. And Loop merchants promise that many of their products can’t be found anywhere else.
Lawrence Grown, co-founder with his wife Christa Rybczynski of Metro Lighting, at 2240 San Pablo Ave., says the concept has been in the works for 4-5 years. Many of the shop owners recognized it was a good idea, but it was the possibility of getting some support from the city that kickstarted the project about a year ago, he says.
The Design Loop received funds from the city of Berkeley’s Economic Development department which were primarily spent on a marketing campaign, including branding, and a website, overseen by Berkeley’s Radiant Brands. Each of the participating stores also has a Design Loop decal in its window. Grown says he can envision the group eventually growing to 50-plus members.
“We aim to pool our resources, increase cross-referrals between merchants and educate each other,” he said. He added that if San Francisco’s Design Center is for professionals, the Loop is for the public. “We offer original, unique products, expert advice, convenient location — and easy parking.”
Meyer says the arrival of lighting and hardware store Rejuvenation on Fourth St. prompted many of those who had been mulling the idea to take action.
“We all compete with the larger stores on variety and prices, so it made sense to band together,” he said.
Like most cities its size, Berkeley has a number of merchant associations, including the North Shattuck Association, the Telegraph Merchants Association, and Shop Elmwood. Most are united purely through geography. The Design Loop members share a market segment too.
The concept relies on collaboration, but it is also founded on the principle that a store owner will refer customers to other participating stores — what the Design Loop calls a spirit of ‘co-opetition.’
“If one of us doesn’t have what you’re looking for, most likely another member on The Loop does,” said Grown.
Underlying the initiative is a serious concern: many home improvement merchants were dealt a severe blow when the recession put a halt to construction and remodeling projects. The Loop is very much about boosting business.
Meyer, who has worked at Ohmega for 12 years, says the salvage store has suffered a slow decline in sales. Owner Katherine Davis, who took over the operation from her husband Steve, who died last year, has had to lay off some of its part-time staff.
“The bottom line is we want to increase sales,” he says.
On Saturday July 20, all the West Berkeley Design Group members are throwing a “Get in the Loop!” event with a schedule of how-to workshops — where you can learn how to re-glaze windows, install lighting fixtures and chalk paint vintage furniture. All shops will have balloons outside their stores, and refreshments inside. A sweepstake offers the chance to win a $500 shopping spree.
“We are offering our wares, our expertise, education on home improvement, refreshments, and prizes,” said Grown. “We hope to see everyone there.”
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