The ambience of Bella Ceramica, the Italian import gift shop on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, is so bright and cheerful, you wonder why they even need to turn on the lights. After many years as a San Francisco wholesaler, owner Claudio Luporini moved to the East Bay in 1999 to open his own retail store. He sells a festive selection of limited-edition, handmade ceramic dishware, vases, tableware, and other accessories in many different patterns, every piece hard to find. A most avuncular salesman, Claudio will also happily chat about his trips to Italy — made several times a year — where he diligently searches up and down the peninsula for the finest handcrafted earthenware from such centers of craftsmanship and artistry as Siena, Gubbio, Vietri, and Deruta. From there, you'll want to hop the next flight to Italy. Another special treat for shoppers is the annual holiday sale of hand-painted ornaments, the kind of decoration that makes you want to throw away the cheap tinsel for good. Like many of the other pieces, these can disappear fast, so get there early. Bellissimo!
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