Quirky is not a precise scientific term. It can float and adjust. It can mean many things.
I have occasionally presented what might seem to be “normal” as quirky, based on the premise that when quirky is the norm, non-quirky is heterodox and thus potentially, um, quirky. The application of this world-upside-downism to Berkeley seems evident.
Let’s add Mark Bulwinkle into this conversation. I have a habit of calling Bulwinkle the True North of Quirky Berkeley. I may be overusing the phrase, but I believe it is true.
A few months ago, Bulwinkle wrote, praising the Star Grocery block on Claremont Avenue, across from the Uplands, calling it the quirkiest block on Berkeley. Implicit in that is the recognition that we are talking about the quirkiest commercial block.
What about it resonates with Bulwinkle?
The grocery store, particularly the meat department, reminds me exactly of the old Triple A (Triple A Leads the Way!) supermarket I worked in as a teenager after school and summers in Weston, Massachusetts. about 55 years ago. In fact, the whole strip, Turtle Island and all, reminds me in a strange way of another era, way back then, in that little burg in New England. Its nice. I stop up there when I want to get a coffee at Semi Fredies and drift back to then, that pre Vietnam invasion era.
I get it! I sometimes feel that way about the 1500 block of Hopkins near Monterey Market too. A little bit of pre-Vietnam New England.
So – I agree. Let’s check it out, shall we?
The heart of the block is the Star Grocery.
The Berkeley Historical Plaque Project teaches us this about Star: “The Star Grocery, one of Berkeley’s oldest and most beloved family run businesses, was founded in 1922 by Greek immigrant brothers Nick and Jim Pappas. They originally hand delivered groceries in wicker baskets which, as the business flourished, were replaced by a fleet of delivery trucks. During the Depression, the Pappas brothers generously extended credit, writing off thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. The colorful marquee with the dominant star was added during a 1949 expansion. In 1974 Jim’s son Nick assumed management, continuing to offer quality merchandise in the trusting personal family style that has attracted neighborhood loyalty over the decades.”
The signs inside the store are dynamite:
There is nothing modern or hipster or even 21st century about these signs. They rock with a pre-Vietnam vibe, don’t they now?
That’s the anchor. Let’s go left to right, downhill to uphill, sort of west to sort of east.
The Escapist rose from the closing of Comic Relief (1987-2011) and opened on Claremont in 2011.
Dark Carnival specializes in science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries. 40 years in business. They know the genres.
My mother collected musical angels which she displayed at Christmas. When she was alive, I bought a new one each year. I bought from Jutta, both here and at her earlier location on Domingo. I love her store.
Former High School Principal and Administrator Laura Leventer was known for wearing unique business clothing with pizazz. She opened Personal Pizazz to share her love of good clothing. It is a solid 5-Yelp-stars business.
Afikomen offers contemporary Judaica for inspired living. I remember a long conversation with the staff there about the phrase “sacred and profane.” I remember talking with the staff about Ladino, the transactional language of Sephardic Jews.
There is something about an upholstery shop that invokes an older, weirder America. I don’t know what it is.
Years ago, many years ago, Turtle Island was located downtown and I went there. A lot. Before the web took over, for me, used books. But I still love going in and browsing.
Bending around the corner to Prince:
Bulwinkle has a point.
Three bookstores, four if you count Afikomen which sells books. Cool upholstery shop. Jutta’s Flowers. And Greatest of All – Star Grocery.
My friend took his time with these photos. He kept glancing at another photo, a small, worn photo. He’d been looking through some photographs he found inside a drawer. It was of two hands grasping one hand. You had to orient yourself to see how the hands worked. It was almost like an Escher drawing, of the hands merging. “It reminds me of one I saw of a couple married for 67 years who died holding hands.” The photo obviously meant something to him.
Okay. Fine. But what about Star Grocery and that block?
Excellent choice Tom, I think many of us of a more “Mature” age have a place like this in our background.
A very nice article. Star Grocery is actually on Claremont Ave in Berkeley not Piedmont.
“A few months ago, Bulwinkle wrote, praising the Star Grocery block on Piedmont Avenue, across from the Uplands, calling it the quirkiest block on Berkeley”
Typo – fixed it. Thanks
I expected and would like to see the photo of the hands clasping.
Except – my friend is an imaginary friend. Almost everything that he talks about is imaginary.
When I last went “home” to Weston the AAA market was gone, apparently consumed by Whole Foods! When I left Weston during “Vietnam” AAA had expanded, as was everything, it seemed. While the choices of food and quality have greatly expanded since Henry Acconcia, the owner, used to print up and send out the “Specials” mailers which would arrive by mail in time for weekend shoppers, I sill have an affection for any small grocery store where the cheese selection is dominated by Velveeta. As all “mature” people must realize, emotional responses in life are rarely rational, unless of course you dig deep enough. Then who wants to ruin the surprise of unwrapping a gift, and besides, who’s got the money for it? It can be a pleasure to simply wonder at the strangeness of it all. Velveeta and Campbells soups and dented dog food cans and washing the meat trays at the end of the day do not inhabit my nightmares like some other memories do. For that I am grateful, as I am for that lovely strip of stores on upper Claremont. Nice Blog, Tom Thanks mb
Just wanted to share. My Grandfather had a grocery store in Berkeley from the 1920’s through the 40’s. After he closed his store he went to work for Star Grocery as a butcher and worked there for about 10 years !!!