Witty Twisters 

Suddenly that dull stretch of San Pablo Avenue is the stuff that dreams are made of.

If you regularly drive up and down San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, you've probably noticed subtle changes to the tired-looking strip running from Ashby to University. Over the last few years, many aspiring craftspeople and entrepreneurs have found wiggle room in the avenue's empty storefronts, encouraged by the heavy traffic and rents that seemed low at the time. This stretch of San Pablo offers an alternative to more crowded and expensive shopping areas of Berkeley. But even San Pablo Avenue has a price.

Take the case of Twisters Vintage at 2500 San Pablo (510-548-9478). Twisters was opened three years ago by Ann Fulayter and Heidi Spanier, who share an addiction for "thrifting" and a desire to promote local artists. In 2002 the store won "Best of the East Bay" awards in the "vintage" category in both Diablo magazine and the Express. Says Spanier: "We know a lot of artists and we wanted to give them an alternate venue and a new way to create -- also to bring in a different point of view from our own." The deliciously tall wraparound windows certainly make it the ideal place for large installation work.

Last April the ladies handed their windows over to visual artist Allyson Hollingsworth and the first "Twisters art window" was born. Hollingsworth created "Four and Twenty Blackbirds," a picturesque tableau centered on a floating dress inside a park-like setting, with real grass and carefully handcrafted birds. The effect was beautiful and haunting, like a recurring dream. Spanier and Fulayter were pleased with comments from passersby, and soon the storeowners began booking the window as an art space from month to month. Since then they've shown works from several local artists including Michael Coomer and Chela Feilding; photographers Stephanie Silk, Stephane Briere, and Michelle Maas; visual artists Ivana B. Grater and Valerie Raps; duct-tape fashion designer Roman; and "clown attorney" Tony Cimo. In December, Twisters threw a third-anniversary party and fashion show at the Fine Arts Cinema on Shattuck, a tribute to the store's survival and to the artists and spectators who have supported it.

The event was spiked with mixed emotions, however. Spanier and Fulayter were recently informed their rent would be raised considerably, leaving them no choice but to abandon the space. Salvation arrived two weeks later in the form of the empty Tabernacle of Life Church, two blocks away at 2353 San Pablo. Fulayter noticed the "For Rent" sign on the door while driving by and saw the potential: It was raw, but had great old wood floors and 50 percent more space. "We're really excited about the new space," says Spanier. "It's a lot bigger, so there is a possibility to expand and also to have onsite events. But we're also nervous about losing the customers and the foot traffic that we've got right now." Fulayter and Spanier have big ideas for the shop's new home, including a traffic-stopping coat of bright orange paint and larger windows to continue their sidewalk gallery. The new Twisters Vintage will open February 1, with plans to include films, artist receptions, and possible trunk shows for their own line of clothing -- a project still in the works.

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