A Berkeley artist turned a dark moment into a brighter one earlier this month when the gelato shop where he used to work was vandalized, its front window smashed.
Word of the vandalism, at downtown Berkeley's Almare Gelato in BART plaza, spread quickly online, with many people offering support to the longtime local business.
Yano Rivera, who worked at the gelato shop for seven years and still visits often to catch up with the owners and make his morning coffee with their espresso machine, wanted to give more than cheering words to his former bosses.
Rivera, who conserves and restores street art by trade, decided to make his own "fake Banksy mural" to cover up the broken window until the glass could be repaired.
"They're friends of mine. I see them almost every day on my commute," he said. "It can be rough at the BART plaza. When their window got smashed, I felt compelled to do something."
He said Almare's owners had been "pretty disheartened" when a woman with a shopping cart smashed the shop window for no apparent reason on Jan. 11.
The woman was also linked to a second similar incident in downtown Berkeley, which reportedly saw a 16% increase in serious crime in the third quarter of 2023, the most recent data available, according to the Downtown Berkeley Association, which represents merchant interests.
Rivera, who is 40 years old and originally from Puerto Rico, cut the stencil for the mural at his home in Berkeley and then painted it on the plywood that covered Almare's broken window for more than a week.
He shared a video of his process on social media, which drew praise from other community members who were moved by his creative response to an otherwise unfortunate situation.
Read more community stories on The Scanner.
In the video, Rivera described how he'd first designed the artwork using AI tools, and then hand-cut the cardboard stencil on his floor. Then it was time to see how it looked.
"I tested it out in my garage because it's the first time I'm doing something like this," he explained in the video. "Once I felt a little more confident, I took it to the streets."
Once the main artwork was done, Rivera added an impromptu message to the mural that he hoped would hit home.
"Smash prejudice, not windows," he wrote, adding, in the video: "It's cheesy, I know. But I genuinely believe people could do with a little less bias."
As of this week, the window at the gelato shop has been fixed. That's OK, Rivera said: He knew his mural would be just a pop-up installation.
"I'm not sad to see it leave," he said.
"Complete lack of safety" at Berkeley BART plaza
Rivera's artwork isn't gone for good, however.
Gelato shop co-owner Simone Arpaio said the plan now is to bring the mural to Almare's Richmond site, where he and his business partner, Alberto Malvestio, are building a factory.
Arpaio said they had been touched by Rivera's offer to create the mural after the vandalism.
"We gave him carte blanche," he said. "I told him: Do what you want, have fun with it."
Despite being a small crime in the grand scheme of things, the glass repair cost nearly $3,000, Arpaio said, not to mention the many hours it took to deal with it.
And the front window no longer has the custom gelato decal it used to feature.
The incident, the latest of numerous challenges related to Almare's BART plaza location, took a psychological toll, too, Arpaio said.
"There is this generic sense of lack of safety, which is omnipresent," he said. "Complete lack of safety."
In recent months, Almare and other downtown Berkeley businesses have been brainstorming ways to boost security in the neighborhood.
That could include new surveillance cameras to help police investigate crime and, in some cases, stop it from happening in the first place.
But those efforts, which are ongoing, have been slow to materialize despite high interest from the business community.
Arpaio also noted that Berkeley police and local City Council representative Kate Harrison had been responsive after the vandalism: Harrison expressed interest in the issue and police continue to stop by almost every morning to check in.
But there hadn't been much to show for it, he noted, which is not a surprise given the complex nature and root causes of the ongoing problems.
"They come, they talk to you and everything. But actually nothing changes," Arpaio said. "This is something that starts way before that. This is the tip of the iceberg."
Below, watch the video created by Yano Rivera of the mural installation at Almare.
If you hear about other creative, grassroots responses to Berkeley public safety issues, we want to hear about them. Use our tips form to let The Scanner know.