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- A new Philthy Clean Tattoo rises out of the ashes
- Berkeley startup creates a more efficient battery-boosted heat pump
- Formerly homeless entrepreneur creates app to help people with challenges he faced
- Chiropractic clinic opens in former Berkeley Martial Arts space
- Aiken, an early purveyor of sustainable fashion, closes after 13 years
Open Downtown Berkeley
A new Philthy Clean Tattoo rises out of the ashes
Brian Thompson and his wife, Berenice, were devastated when their 10-year-old West Berkeley tattoo shop, Philthy Clean Tattoo, burned down in August 2021.
“I built that place with my own two hands,” Thompson told Berkeleyside. The shop catered to a diverse clientele that included “firefighters to regular dudes to cops to ballplayers to politicians,” he said.
The Thompsons own two other tattoo shops, in Fairfield and Woodland, and considered the Berkeley shop their flagship.
On Jan. 3 Philthy Clean opened the doors of its new Downtown Berkeley home. The shop is famous for its tattooed portraits (Al Capone, Malcolm X and loved ones appear on its Facebook page) and the “Cali-Chicano” tattoo style of Miguel “Bounce” Perez, recently featured on KQED. The shop also does piercings.
The new storefront is decked out with custom art that pays homage to Berkeley and Bay Area culture, and a glowing, neon portrait of Brian Thompson greets tattooees before they lay down for ink.
“We’re here, we’re rebuilding, we’re excited,” Berenice Thompson said at a Dec. 1 event for KQED’s tattoo series. She said it’s incredibly meaningful to re-open a store in Berkeley, the city where their tattoo journey began.
“It definitely is a family vibe,” Berenice Thompson said. “We love creating an environment where people feel like they can be themselves, [where] uniqueness is embraced and applauded instead of diminished or ignored.”
In the Spotlight Downtown Berkeley
Berkeley startup creates a more efficient battery-boosted heat pump
In California, buildings produce a quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, making homes a major contributor to climate change. Going solar is typically the first step in “decarbonizing” a home. The next step is to replace the mostly gas-fired home heating and hot water systems.
“Home heating and hot water are the final frontier for decarbonizing our lives,” said Jane Melia, co-founder and CEO of the Berkeley-based Harvest Thermal. “But a very important frontier.”
Private homes make up about half of all building emissions, Melia said, and two-thirds of those emissions come from gas-powered heating and hot water.
“Solar panels are fantastic, but they’re only addressing about a third of the energy usage in your home,” Melia said. “Heating and hot water makes up the bulk of it.”
Heat pumps — systems that move heat rather than generate it — are a popular and super efficient alternative, Melia said, operating at 200% to 400% efficiency, “way better than the best gas furnace.” Most gas furnaces are 80% efficient, while gas water heaters are 50% efficient.
But when Melia and her husband, Pierre Delforge, co-founder of Harvest Thermal and, like Melia, also an engineer, went to switch out the gas heating system in their 1927 Kensington home, they discovered the heat pump’s drawbacks: They would have to buy two heat pumps (one for heat and one for hot water) — and use electricity at the least sustainable times of day.
Such systems work by providing heat when you need it the most: in the morning and the night. During such peak periods, the demand for electricity usually comes from dirtier, nonrenewable sources like gas, instead of solar, which is abundant and inexpensive in the daytime.
Instead of two heat pumps, the Harvest Thermal system requires only one, which can run in the middle of the day, taking advantage of the cleanest energy produced. The energy it draws from the grid is then stored in a thermal battery — basically a hot water tank wrapped in a blanket, Melia said — so it doesn’t lose heat.
“We’re managing that tank and the hot water in that tank and delivering the heat and hot water whenever your house needs it,” said Melia.
Switching to such a system requires one heat pump, the size of a suitcase, which can be placed outdoors or indoors in a garage, closet or mechanical room. The furnace is then replaced with the air handler. The system can then use existing registers and ducts to deliver the warm air.
“It swaps out one-to-one to avoid disruption,” Melia said.
Harvest Thermal works with contractors it has trained to provide the most efficient design and implementation, with a typical installation costing between $15,000 and $25,000, depending on incentives. Harvest Thermal is often more expensive than a traditional heat pump system (online estimates vary greatly and are hotly debated), but the savings come through in terms of energy usage.
Harvest Thermal has been found to cut carbon emissions by 90% or more compared to gas equipment and by 50% compared to standard heat pump setups. In addition, homeowners are likely to save up to 45% of their monthly heating and hot water bills.
Harvest Thermal recently received an infusion of investments and awards that have given both the company and its founders a boost. In October, it won the overall climate tech award, a $10,000 prize, at the VERGE 22, a leading climate tech conference, and in December received $100,000 investment, sharing the top prize at the Seattle Angel Conference 2022.
Melia sees a confluence of events that will move homeowners toward products like Harvest Thermal: natural gas prices that have risen up to 300% in some parts of the state and the Inflation Reduction Act’s $50 billion in clean energy tax credits.
“You’ve got the federal government, the state and homeowners and people like myself all working together to make this change happen as quickly as possible,” she said. “It’s super exciting to see the energy, emotion and drive to make this change happen.”
In the spotlight South Berkeley
Formerly homeless entrepreneur creates app to help people with challenges he faced
Stephen Goodman has been homeless twice: first after his parents asked him to leave their Austin, Texas, home because he was addicted to ecstasy and cocaine; then from 2016-19, when he chose to live in the “Here There” encampment at Adeline Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way because he couldn’t afford Bay Area rents as he struggled to create a finance app.
By then the former college business major and entrepreneur had gotten sober, but his first experience as an unhoused person stuck with him.
“You think, who am I going to call?” said Goodman, who now lives in the Washington, D.C. area. “Just trying to get in touch with people who can help you is a very difficult thing.”
About six months ago Goodman launched an app called Reach that connects the homeless population to services they may need. The site also lists events, like mobile haircutting services, and where hot meals are being served. A chat option allows people to speak directly to service providers, and a social media function allows them to connect with each other.
“With Facebook there’s a lot of distractions,” Goodman said. With his app, you can “create a social media profile exclusive to homeless people and the people trying to help them.”
In the past, Goodman said, such information was spread via paper. Reach brings such resources into the digital age.
Many in the unhoused community have cell phones, but for those who don’t, Reach can connect them to an agency that will get them a free government phone. When he lived at the Berkeley encampment, Hoffman charged his phone using its solar panels set up there or visiting coffee shops.
“A lot of times homeless people feel as if they don’t have a voice,” Goodman said. With his app, he said, “they can post their thoughts and feel as if they’re being heard.”
Open Poet’s Corner
Chiropractic clinic opens in former Berkeley Martial Arts space
Oakland’s The Source Chiropractic, “here to deliver world class chiropractic care & guide the awakening of human consciousness,” according to its Instagram page, has opened a South Berkeley practice in the former home of Berkeley Martial Arts, which closed in October after 42 years.
The four-member chiropractic team is made up of Freddy Garcia, Reggie Mims, Brian Harper and Brendan Collins-Bride.
The Source Chiropractic, 2438 Sacramento St. (at Dwight Way), Berkeley. Phone: 510-529-4207.
Closing Fourth Street
Aiken, an early purveyor of sustainable fashion, closes after 13 years
When Randy Brewer, who had been a retail buyer for San Francisco boutiques for decades, decided to open her own store, she wanted it to be about more than “just the coolest new denim line.” She wanted to combine fashion with her passion for environmentalism. When it opened 13 years ago selling shoes and clothing for men and women, Aiken (originally called Convert) embodied such sensibilities.
Brewer recently announced that Aiken will be shuttering at the end of February.
“We are closing to pursue new adventures,” said Brewer, who co-owns Aiken with Fred Whitefield. “While we will miss our amazing customers, we are ready for a new challenge.”
Brewer recommended that customers who have store credits or gift cards use them soon, “as we will start running low on selection.” All returned holiday gifts will be for exchange only — no more store credits will be given, she said.
Berkeleyside housing and homelessness reporter Supriya Yelimeli contributed reporting to this story.