Berkeley stores partner in Design Loop to boost business

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Berkeley businesses, including EcoHome Improvement at 2619 San Pablo Ave., have banded together in a spirit of ‘co-opetition.’ Photo: courtesy EcoHome Improvement

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). 

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The West Berkeley Design Loop merchants are located in a loop that stretches from Ashby Ave. in the south to Harrison St. in the north. View map in full size.

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.

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Christa Rybczynski and Lawrence Grown: owners of Metro Lighting at 2240 San Pablo Ave. Photo: courtesy Metro Lighting

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.”

Visit the West Berkeley Design Loop’s website; read or print the West Berkeley Design Loop brochure.

Related:
Berkeley lighting business creates winning green space (04.18.11)

Every week Berkeleyside publishes Shop Talk a round-up of local Berkeley business news: openings, closings, new directions, relaunches, relocations. Read  Shop Talk columns here. Check out also our weekly Bites column which provides food news for the whole East Bay.  

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  • guest

    Love this!

  • Chris

    This is awesome! Go West Berkeley!

  • The_Sharkey

    Ohmega’s declining sales may be a result of their pricing.
    The last few times I’ve gone looking I’ve walked away empty-handed, shaking my head at the prices on items that were sitting out in the weather getting ruined through exposure damage.

  • Chris

    I couldn’t agree with you more!

  • Truth Sayer

    After getting sticker shock from some of the businesses listed, I go elsewhere. I realize they need to make a profit, but it is essential that they remain reasonably competitive with big box and chain stores.

  • Chris J

    This is the ‘eternal’ conflict faced by individuals shopping and supporting a household every day– do you spend more to support local businesses or consider chains which offer things, typically, less expensively. It all depends on one’s priorities, of course, which can include cost, convenience, uniqueness of items, immediacy of product availability, and concern for community values and what our business community may be like in another generation.

    All these thoughts flash through our heads in a millisecond and thus our community of small businesses continues to thrive or dive. The marketing idea these businesses have is pretty good and it could certainly help.

  • The_Sharkey

    Yeah. These days you can get a brand-new reproduction fixture at Rejuvenation down on 4th Street for less than what Ohmega charges for a beat-up old piece that they’ve allowed to get ruined through weather damage.

    The Ohmega Too lighting store has some real one-of-a-kind gems that are reasonably priced for what they are, but the prices of the items at their “cheaper” lot on the west side of San Pablo have ballooned to the point where it’s not even fun to browse there any more.

  • The_Sharkey

    Oops, the cheaper lot is on the EAST side of San Pablo. Not the west.

  • Truth Sayer

    Small local businesses also have to compete with Internet sales. For example, I needed an odd size lithium battery. After purchasing one for $6.00 and change at a local business, I ordered spares on line costing less than half as much. Though I will be buying these batteries on line, finding unique items and face-to-face interaction is priceless.