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News about great shops in your neighborhood


Shop Talk | By Mary Lee Shalvoy

Pampered pets

If you don’t have a baby to buy organic for, you can still buy organic for other family members. Paws & Claws is a natural pet-food store in Oakland’s Dimond District, catering to dogs, cats and rabbits.

Diane Pfile and her partner Ruth Villaseñor discovered a need for organically grown and produced staples when one of their own dogs was diagnosed with cancer. They decided to offer healthier alternatives to their neighborhood’s furry denizens by launching the business nearly three years ago.

“It’s a small space, with a general-store feel,” Pfile explains, as she is interrupted by an owner and dog who have come into the store to use the self-service dog bath. “Oh, yes, we have a tub, various natural shampoos and towels available in the back of the shop. It helps our customers save on groomers,” she notes.

Most of the food Paws & Claws carries are free of hormones, antibiotics and any of the non-natural additives found in most commercially available products. The store offers a frozen raw meat diet for cats or dogs that also contains vegetables and fruit—all without chemical by-products.

Paws & Claws sells a line of collars, toys, nutritional supplements and flea repellent. The store also has a small amount of doggy apparel, including Fido Fleece jackets and Gooby harnesses.

Pfile says that Paws & Claws hosts fund-raisers and events for many dog-rescue groups, as well as artist receptions and an annual Halloween pet parade and costume party. Call to find out more about the upcoming Paws & Claws Valentine’s Day party. Next time you take Fido out for a walk, stop by for his bath. But remember, it’s not for all of your pets. “We did have one cat in for a bath,” Pfile laughs. “Not the best idea.”

Paws & Claws, 2023 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, (510) 336-0105;


Baby greens

After Cindy Adams Assareh gave birth to her son Ashton last year, she and husband Hooman downshifted from being high-tech executives to owning and operating a Berkeley shop that focuses on low-tech, eco-friendly and organic clothes, toys and gear for infants and young children. Their own difficult quest for eco-baby-friendly products for their newborn inspired them to open the store—O! babybaby on Solano Avenue in North Berkeley. “Once we opened the doors, we realized that this is more than just a store; it’s a calling,” says Cindy. “This is what I was meant to do.”

O! babybaby carries clothing made from organic and recycled fibers from both local vendors and international fair-trade companies for children ranging in age from infant through six years old. In just three months since the grand opening, the Assarehs have attracted a community of parents eager for environmentally-sensitive baby staples including organically made reusable diapers, one-piece snap-on undershirts and soft lambskin booties and vests made from the fur of animals that have died of natural causes. O! babybaby also carries baby “gear” in the form of strollers and cribs imported from other countries.

The store features toys made from natural products. “Our toys are mostly wooden and old-fashioned, imported from Europe,” Hooman Assareh says. “There are no plastic or PVC toys. They are not mainstream.”

The Assarehs say the store’s early success and popularity among neighborhood parents bodes well for the business they hope flourishes long past Ashton’s baby years.

O! babybaby, 1885 Solano Ave., Berkeley, (510) 559-9909;


An artist’s aesthetic

When Raymond Haywood opened his Fast Frame shop in Berkeley last summer, he brought an artist’s eye and heart to the job. “An artist is the best person to operate a frame shop because we understand that the frame is the medium that protects our work,” says Haywood, a fine artist and mixed-media painter. “The aesthetics of the entire piece are another important aspect.”

Haywood says he takes time to educate his customers about the artisan craft of quality framing, including the design, sense of color and texture that come together in a finished piece that can last a lifetime. He also tries to provide a fast turnaround with a wide selection of mouldings in stock and offers a 30-day design guarantee. Haywood custom-frames all types of artwork, archival materials and memorabilia, and builds shadow boxes to contain keepsakes.

“I like working with a shadow box because it tells a story,” Haywood says. He was once hired to create a shadow box to display the fingertips of a seven-foot-long alligator; the big-game hunter wanted to display his catch with a map of his Florida hunting ground. “That’s got to be the strangest,” says Haywood. “But I can work with anything you have.”

Berkeley Fast Frame, 1975 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 666-9104;



Susan Morrow says she opened Urban Forest Home not just for the gifted green-thumbers, but for those who tend to kill even the sturdiest houseplant. Morrow’s shop offers flowers, houseplants and household furnishings with a focus on organic fair-trade products. She means it when she says that she wants to help her customers develop a sense of eco-friendly home gardening. Morrow uses a custom-made, organic potting soil in her plants that absorbs 15 times its weight in water. “As a result, you don’t have to water as much,” she explains. “Like once a month.”

While customers can turn to Urban Forest Home to create flower arrangements, custom window boxes and planters, gardening newbies can also earn a lesson first-hand at the store’s “potting bar.” “We want to encourage people who feel intimidated by it all to come in and try it themselves,” Morrow says. “We have bins of dirt and plenty of pots to work with. In fact, we encourage our customers to play with dirt.”

Urban Forest Home’s furnishings include products from both local designers and fair-trade countries that make use of renewable resources like bamboo and capiz shells. “Everything here has a story,” Morrow says. “My customers are concerned with those stories and they are concerned about the environment. We are here to help them sort it all out.”

Urban Forest Home, 1880 Solano Ave., Berkeley, (510) 525-2500;




Paws & Claws

Paws & Claws owners and friends. Photo courtesy Paws & Claws.