For many decades, the city of Berkeley has prided itself on promoting local, sustainable and equitable production and consumption. A stroll down Telegraph Avenue shows that numerous weekend street vendors are still trying to uphold those ideals.
Although negative adjectives and references to the homeless population are usually used to describe the commercial strip, there is still some rich culture and interesting lore to be uncovered that’s not conveniently displayed in a store window.
The street vendors on Telegraph extend from Bancroft Way to Dwight Way. Most of the vendors located closer to campus — such as Tenzin Tagudh’s in front Blondie’s Pizza — sell jewelry made with a variety of metals, beads, and cloth. The designs of Tagudh’s products are influenced by Eastern cultures, primarily Indian, Tibetan and Buddhist, Tagudh said. All of the products on display were made by him or his family. Other jewelry merchants on Telegraph also feature Murano glass, colorful feathers and ceramic pieces in their handmade products.
But further down the avenue, one can come across more artistic products. Across the street from Amoeba Music on the corner of Haste and Telegraph is a display by hip-hop artist Samuel Renaissance of art prints originally in oil, acrylic and colored pencils. Originally from New York City, Renaissance has embedded that street culture in his art, featuring stories of Harlem and crowded struggles for city space told by “bold black lines and strong color.”
Additionally, there are usually local musicians looking for a willing audience and selling stacks of their CDs. Alpha Leo, a rapper from Richmond, goes by the alias of ‘drawdroppa’ and produces tracks with styles akin to those of rap artists Nas and Andre 3000. For the price of a Subway footlong, it may be worth it to hear local stories instead of the ones on a big-time label for a change.
Stationed in front of Rasputin Music is Cornelius Lowenspin, a German immigrant who makes and sells genuine “full, happy California cow” leather products, including belts and belt pouches and bracelets, all of which are handmade.
While students may be wrapped up in the fast-paced college life, a simple walk down Telegraph Avenue and a short conversation with a vendor may provide a refreshing perspective that can enrich one’s experience in a city as eccentric as Berkeley. Telegraph may not be as lively or full of culture as it was in the 1960s, but traces of art and culture are still found lingering on the commercial strip.
“Only five years ago, I came to Berkeley and Telegraph was packed,” Lowenspin said. “It has obviously deteriorated with the bad economy. But if there’s anything people should and could do, it’s buy local. Be smart and buy products with a small carbon footprint and support your local economy.”