Life on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley

Paper Plus Party Store customer Jed Brown carries balloons down San Pablo Avenue for his daughter’s birthday party. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Tall leafy trees line the section of San Pablo Avenue between University Avenue and Cedar Street. Chain-link fences frame empty lots, and brightly colored murals feature a desert oasis and a creature with crescent-shaped eyes and a long tail. People walk in and out of cafes, bakeries, body shops and a lighting store overflowing with lamps.

Local businesses like Nicholas Roofing and Everett and Jones Barbeque have been around for decades, while newcomers like Reuse Arts and Crafts and David Giulietti Jewelry Designs have opened in recent years. They’re our neighbors, but it can be hard to get to know someone during a quick stop for dinner or an errand.

To give you a taste of life on this block, we’ve put together a collection of the personal stories behind six businesses on a small stretch of San Pablo.

Everett and Jones’ Shamar Cotton explains what it’s like to grow up with your mother as your boss. “You will learn all the secrets and you will be able to carry the torch,” he says.

Anat Silvera of Silvera Jewelry School remembers the first piece of jewelry that ever dazzled her: a sterling silver and enamel tie pin worn by her grandfather, a door-to-door insurance salesman. “It was something that was so beautiful to me,” she says.

And Ronny Carrillo, balloon decorator at the Paper Plus Party Store, shares how moved he was when an older customer returned to the store years after her grandson’s death and asked to buy a yellow balloon, just like she used to get with the boy. “She was like, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ “, he says.

We bring these stories to you in a series of short audio clips to bring you closer to the people who spend their lives leading our city’s small businesses. You’ll hear Karen Roze tattooing her apprentice, Carrillo inflating balloons on Valentine’s Day, and Joe Silvera, Anat’s husband, lighting his torch to solder a piece of jewelry.

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Click the play button to hear the voices of San Pablo Avenue as you scroll through this story.

Paper Plus: “Only you can be happy for yourself”

Ronny Carrillo. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Take a whirlwind tour of the Paper Plus Party Store with Michele Schurman and meet Ronny Carrillo, the balloon decorator who has bonded with generations of customers through good times and bad.

Paper Plus, 1629 San Pablo Ave.


Silvera Jewelry School: ‘You never left me alone after that’

Anat and Joe Silvera. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Anat and Joe Silvera share their story of falling in love with jewelry and each other. The two jewelers behind the Silvera Jewelry School have been together for 23 years.

Silvera School of Jewelry, 1105 Virginia St.


Albatross Pub: “I’m the one who has all these stories now”

Andrew McGee. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Andrew McGee recalls the decades he spent working at the Albatross pub and the pain of closing the longtime Berkeley bar.

Pub Albatros, 1822 San Pablo Avenue.


Auto Doctor: ‘It’s 32; it passed like 32 seconds’

Joe Ahmadieh. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

It’s been three decades since Auto Doctor’s Joe Ahmadieh made a choice that defined his life’s work. He struggles with the question: did he follow the right path?

Auto Doctor, 1830 San Pablo Ave.


Sacred Rose Tattoo: “I Clawed My Way and Had to Fight to Stay”

Karen Rose. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Karen Roze, owner of Sacred Rose Tattoo, tells her story of breaking into the Bay Area tattoo scene at a time when men dominated the industry, and many wanted it to stay that way.

Sacred Rose Tattoo, 1960 San Pablo Ave.


Everett and Jones: “My dream is not to disappoint them”

Shamar Cotton. Credit: Noah Baustin

Shamar Cotton reflects on her mother’s legacy at Everett and Jones Barbeque and the weight of being the third generation in her family to run the restaurant.

Everett and Jones, 1955 San Pablo Ave.


Noah Baustin is a Berkeley-based journalist and audio producer, who joined the San Francisco Standard as a data reporter on July 19. This audio project was his senior thesis at UC Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism. He graduated in May.


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Edward L. Robinett