Jed Brown, a customer of the Paper Plus Party Store, 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 box in 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, auto 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 relative newcomers like Reuse Arts and Crafts and David Giulietti Jewelry Designs opened in recent years. They’re our neighbors, but it can be hard to get to know someone during a quick stop to pick up dinner or run an errand.

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

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

Anat Silvera of the 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. “That was something that was just so beautiful for me,” she says.

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

We’re bringing you these stories in a series of short audio pieces to bring you closer to the people who spend their lives running our city’s small businesses. You’ll hear as Karen Roze tattoos her apprentice, as Carrillo blows up balloons on Valentine’s Day and as Joe Silvera, Anat’s husband, fires up his blowtorch to solder a piece of jewelry. 

Created with Datawrapper

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

Paper Plus: ‘You are the only one that 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 Jewelry School, 1105 Virginia St.


Albatross Pub: ‘I’m the one who has all those stories now’

Andrew McGee. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Andrew McGee reminisces on the decades he spent working at the Albatross Pub, and the pain of closing the longtime Berkeley bar.

Albatross Pub, 1822 San Pablo Ave.


Auto Doctor: ‘It’s 32 years; it passed by 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 grapples with the question: did he walk down the right path?

Auto Doctor, 1830 San Pablo Ave.


Sacred Rose Tattoo: ‘I weaseled my way in and I had to fight to stay’

Karen Roze. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Karen Roze, owner of Sacred Rose Tattoo, tells her story of breaking into the Bay Area’s 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 basically don’t disappoint them’

Shamar Cotton. Credit: Noah Baustin

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

Everett and Jones, 1955 San Pablo Ave.


Read a transcript of the audio content in this story that was created using an AI program and then edited by Berkeleyside staff. In some cases, the text may not align perfectly with the audio and grammatical or spelling errors may be present.


Noah Baustin is a journalist and audio producer based in Berkeley, 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.