Shop the Block: College Ave.

Within just one or two blocks of Piedmont or in nearby neighborhoods, it’s possible to support the local economy and find one-of-a-kind gift items, including jewelry, clothing, tabletop and kitchen goods, textiles, furniture, rugs, toiletries, gadgets, soaps and perfumes, art, books, food kits, and more.

For the next several weeks, Piedmont Exedra is targeting close-to-home, 2-3 block commercial “hot spots” that offer gift selections suitable for all budgets and tastes in limited geographical areas.

Week One includes a selection of shops on College Avenue: Atomic Garden, Sobu, Maison D’Etre, and Cole Hardware; along with two independent bookstores. Be sure to check online or phone for the latest hours, capacity limits and other COVID-related protocols.

Atomic Garden

Atomic Garden’s artfully curated shop halfway down College Ave. between Market Hall/Rockridge BART and Broadway specializes in mostly small-scale items with big impact.

A collection of wood animal friends, each animal carved by hand out of wood sustainably grown in Indonesia, include a cow, wolf, fawn or squirrel — would long-lasting pleasure for a young person or adult animal lover. An array of “AG bundles” in themed combination packages would make good gifts — kitchen or bath essentials, eclectic moon chimes, aromatic mists, aromatherapy, and more. The Atomic Garden Sanctuary candle, scented with lavender essential oil and made with 100% natural beeswax, would make a good bookend to 2020. The soothing, yellow-toned candle burns for 90 hours.


Sobu’s upscale furniture in the family-owned shop (Alessandro and Laleh Sobu named the store after their kids, Sofia and Bruno) demonstrate sleek, contemporary designs with retro sensibility. From their first idea of a kid’s bed, the couple’s backgrounds in graphic design, photography and architecture blended and today reveal themselves in sofas, chairs and rockers, tables, stools and benches.

At the opposite end of the size spectrum are dishware and kitchen tools made by New York Hudson Valley-based Blackcreek Mercantile and Trading Co. Rounding out the well-matched collection, hand-knotted wool and natural-fiber rugs, mirrors and a limited collection of art prints are available. The store offers free curbside delivery and white glove in-home delivery (available for $195) that includes assembly and removal of all packaging.

Maison d’Etre

Maison D’Etre, next to the popular Cactus Taqueria by Rockridge BART, claims its “Return to Estate of Grace” motto with both useful and indulgent items that range from holiday ornaments to handbags, clothing, jewelry, books, stationary, glassware, kids toys, family-friendly games and more. The owners Patty Brunn and Fred Womack are former florists, and it’s obvious a keen eye operates behind the selection that offers impressive color, balance, and complimentary shapes and textures — as well as a clever sense of humor that pops up now and then. (Shop online at wholesaler Ameico and it will send 35% of the order value to Maison d’Etre.)

Cole Hardware

Cole Hardware is always worth a stop, even if you aren’t in need of home repair tools or materials. In addition to being a full-service hardware store, it also carries an assortment of toys and housewares that would make fine gifts and stocking stuffers. They also have a selection of small Christmas trees and decorations.

Last, but never least, Pegasus Books and East Bay Booksellers (formerly Diesel Books) create appropriate bookends for the College Avenue jaunt. Make an appointment for in-store browsing or shop online for books, periodicals, cards and gift items.

As with all shops and restaurants, check websites for the latest policies and hours. The pandemic guidelines shift constantly, but amid all the pivoting, there is one sure thing: It’s always possible to find a special, East Bay gift at a local business.

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