When Bella Ran and Ye Tian moved from China to Boston a decade ago, they found that all the date-night options here were too conventional. Couples could opt for the classic “dinner and a movie” or spend the day in the park. But what else?
“We felt like there’s not many entertainment activities here that get you up and active,” besides, say, escape rooms, Tian said.
That’s why the husband-wife duo decided to open the Crafts Zone Studio this summer in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner. The six-room, 2,100-square-feet location offers nearly a dozen do-it-yourself projects: handprints, basswood painting, bead crafting, candle-making, and more. Customers pay a flat fee of $10 per hour to rent the space, plus the cost of materials. Upon arrival, employees direct “players” to printed or video instructions. (Staffers are around to help out, too.)
Ran and Tian — as owner and part-time general manager, respectively — also run classes and workshops.
It’s ideal for “anyone and everyone with an artistic flair,” Ran said, be they groups of friends, families, or lone crafters.
Just blocks away from the Brookline Booksmith and Coolidge Corner Theatre, Crafts Zone looks like a sketchbook itself. The chairs and tables are black and white. And the walls are plastered with custom wallpaper, etched with everyday objects like a vending machine and dresser drawers. The 2D effect aims to pull people “away from the natural world and into another one,” Ran said. She first saw the concept at Cafe Monochrome in Singapore and the 2D restaurant in Chicago.
The Brookline business was born from the couple’s prior endeavors — and entrepreneurial spirit. Ran once ran a Japanese nail art salon in downtown Boston, but later sold it to her store manager. Tian also founded the NotStarve commercial kitchen incubator in Woburn. But Crafts Zone could be a more peaceful pursuit, advertised almost like a public service for pandemic-weary customers looking for a creative outlet.
“We hope the space can help people reduce pressure and relieve the stress in their lives,” Tian said, “especially after working all day.”
Reservations are required, and customers can also opt to become members for a recurring fee.
229 Harvard Ave., Brookline, www.crafts.zone, (608) 520-0426
A second life for Uvida
Less than two years after launching in the North End, Maria Camila Vasco is expanding the reach of her zero-waste store, Uvida — with a twist.
The UMass Boston graduate will open a second location in Brookline on July 16 and join forces with Lincoln-based artist Megan Jaen. Inside a storefront jointly named Uvida and Haven, the duo will sell the plastic-free products Vasco popularized, as well as vintage home goods Jaen sources from around New England.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” Jaen said. “People who buy vintage items are often eco-conscious and sustainability-minded. The customer is one and the same.”
The pair got connected through a friend in early 2022, after which Jaen ran a pop-up shop at the North End locations. Her products — an aesthetic mix of mid-century modern chairs, stone tables, and decades-old glassware — attracted a new crop of customers, Vasco said. And Vasco decided to give Jaen permanent shelf space at Uvida.
When Vasco began considering the possibility of a second storefront, combining her business and Jaen’s seemed like a “natural next step.” Plus, Jaen was already eager to show her finds — which otherwise sell on Instagram (@_publicgarden, but soon to be @havenbrookline) and Etsy — in-person.
“What makes me happy is meeting people, talking about the pieces and how they could fit in their home,” Jaen added.
Now, the shelves in Brookline will be stocked with Jaen’s newest discoveries from nearby antique stores and online collectors, as well as Uvida inventory — think bamboo toothbrushes, reusable tumblers, shampoo bars, and second-hand clothing.
The hope, Vasco added, is to reach customers in quieter neighborhoods who now trek downtown to get what they need. (“We have a lot of customers who drive a significant amount to us,” she said. “So why not open where they are?”)
Vasco started Uvida while juggling college classes a few years ago, thanks to a UMass scholarship and small business training from Entrepreneurship for All. It’s since developed a strong following on TikTok and Instagram, particularly among younger people fearful of climate change.
As the store opening approaches, Uvida and Haven will also continue operating online.
395A Washington Street, Brookline, www.uvidashop.com
New use for old T tokens
Still holding onto any vintage T tokens? As Life Alive Organic Cafe opens new stores in Kendall Square and Davis Square this summer, it’s accepting the brassy coins in exchange for a free grain, salad, or broth bowl during each store’s opening week.
Bryan Timko, chief executive of the vegetarian food chain, said the idea came about from his team, who noted that the Red Line was the common thread connecting many of Life Alive’s newest locations.
”There’s really nice connective tissue between many of our cafes, which happens to be called the MBTA,” he said.
When T tokens were taken out of service in 2012, a subway ride cost $1.25. (Ten years later a single ride is nearly twice that much.)
”We thought, gosh, in this inflationary time right now, wouldn’t it be neat to be able to accept a $1.25 T token for an $11 warm grain bowl or salad?” he said.
Life Alive will be handing out 1,500 tokens to customers this summer, mostly purchased from WardMaps, a transit-oriented antique store in Cambridge. The coins collected during opening week will eventually be part of an art installation at both cafes designed by a local artist.
After already opening two other locations this year — one in Harvard Square the other in the South End — Life Alive will nearly double its restaurant count in 2022 to nine.
The restaurant in Kendall opened this week, and the Davis Square location is expected to open in August.
415 Main St (Kendall Square), 20-40 Holland St. (Davis Square), www.lifealive.com
Diti Kohli can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her @ditikohli_. Anissa Gardizy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.