First shipping container ‘village’ headed to Berkeley

Green11 could help revitalize Sacramento Street and bring six new businesses to Berkeley. Image: Timbre Architecture

Green11 could help revitalize Sacramento Street and bring six new businesses to Berkeley. Image: Timbre Architecture

An innovative new shopping development, made entirely of shipping containers, is in the works for Berkeley’s Sacramento Street, which has seen a spate of growth already this year.

Bettina Limaco created Green11: The Refill Place in 2010 to provide an alternative to single-use plastic containers. She plans to open a new store in a shipping container at 3017 Sacramento, north of Tyler Street, along with a distribution center in a second container. Customers will be able to bring their own containers into the shop to refill them with a range of environmentally and health conscious products, from shampoo and dish soap to laundry detergent. Limaco, 41, already has two outposts in San Francisco, where she lives.

Limaco and her husband, Marco Pietschmann, and their 3-year-old son, plan to move to Berkeley when they open the new branch.  They intend to live in a house on the same lot, and Limaco plans to rent out space in “Green11 Village” to perhaps five small food businesses or retailers. A publicly accessible roof deck is planned on the second story. She aims to keep it local, she said, with independent businesses as tenants rather than corporate chains.

Limaco, who grew up in the Bay Area and the Philippines, came out of the corporate world to launch Green11. Previously, she said, she worked in finance for Gillette, in Boston, and later Clorox, in Oakland. Those experiences gave her an awareness of the economics of the industry.

Just 10% of the cost for products such as cleaning liquids and personal care items represents the price of the product, she said; the rest of the cost for companies comes from packaging and shipping. There had to be a better way to cut down on the waste, she thought, and offer a more sustainable approach.

“If you think about the way you purchase laundry and cleaning supplies, you go into CVS or Walgreens, pick out a dish soap, use it for a month, then run out, go in and and buy it again,” she said. “It’s sort of like a really silly way to use plastic. We’re not an anti-plastic company. We’re against the single use of it.”

Courtesy: Bettina Limaco

Bettina Limaco (courtesy of Limaco)

Limaco buys 55-gallon drums of products, which her staff members then use to refill bottles and other containers customers bring in. Her existing businesses are in traditional storefronts. With the Berkeley location, she wanted to try something different.

And using shipping containers was an approach that made sense.

Said architect Bridgett Shank, of Oakland-based Timbre Architecture, which is working on the plans, “A lot of people are trying to use shipping containers for buildings right now. They’re reusing an existing type of thing that’s being manufactured, which has a lot of structural integrity and efficiency.”

“It’s a great metaphor for her business,” Shank continued, of Limaco’s Green11. “She’s about refilling and reducing containers. Now she’ll have this big container that can be reused in the service of this building.”

Why shipping containers

The shipping container architectural movement dates back decades, but has been on the rise in recent years because of the structure’s “inherent strength, wide availability and relatively low expense.” They’ve been used as clothing shops in San Francisco, including the Puma outlet in the America’s Cup campus, and a pop-up village in Hayes Valley called Proxy, selling coffee, ice cream and beer.

Limaco said she first got in touch with city of Berkeley staff in 2010 about renting out a parking space on Fourth Street, across from Peet’s Coffee, with the idea of setting up a shipping container for retail.

“I got a really funny reaction,” she said. “They looked at me like, ‘What is she talking about?'”

Her parking spot idea didn’t comply with existing city codes, she said, but she didn’t let that stop her from continuing to look for a space that would work. As a new mother, she said, she and her husband were looking for a place to settle down away from the city. When they found the lot at Sacramento and Tyler, which was largely zoned commercial but also had a house, it seemed like just the right fit.

What Green11 could look like if built on Sacramento Street. (Click to view larger.) Image: Timbre Architecture

What Green11 could look like if built on Sacramento Street. (Click to view larger.) Image: Timbre Architecture

Limaco first considered having two containers in her backyard, just for Green11, but then started considering the possibilities: What about a coffee shop? A ramen shop? What about a deck for neighbors to hang out?

“It was just one idea on top of another on top of another,” she said. “And it became this shipping container village concept.”

The neighborhood made sense to her as the headquarters for Green11 because of numerous businesses focused on sustainability that were already in the area, from Urban Ore and Biofuel Oasis to Recycle Bicycle, which was still operating at that time.

“I saw that there was sort of an opportunity there for a commercial project like this,” Limaco said. “Because there wasn’t even a coffee shop there when we first started the project.”

As the village concept has developed since then, the neighborhood has ramped up too. Earlier this year, Moxy Beer Garden opened nearby, as has Take 5 Café. Many other new endeavors are in the works.

(View NOSH: Lorin District Restaurant Guide in a larger map.)

Green11 would add to that, and “help build momentum around street life,” said Shank, the architect.

To that end, Limaco plans to apply for a permit from the city to set up a parklet in front of Green11 to create more community space for visitors. (The city is in the midst of a pilot program to explore parklets as creative public pedestrian spaces in Berkeley.)

Green11 would be the first publicly accessible structure made from shipping containers in Berkeley, added Shank.

Limaco said she hopes to get moving soon with city planning and building approvals, with construction taking place in the spring, and an opening, ideally, next summer. A city hearing about her building permit is scheduled for December. She’s looking for businesses that might want to be part of the project; interested parties can email her to learn more.

Limaco said she believes Green11 will help South Berkeley become a destination that draws visitors from a wider area to appreciate the neighborhood, and create more public space for residents, school children and fellow business owners to come together. Neighbors she met with in June about the project expressed excitement, she said, particularly if she sticks with small local entrepreneurs rather than chain stores for her tenants.

“The area is just totally underserved,” she said. “But I think it can be a well-patronized area, assuming everything goes well. Businesses will support each other by bringing traffic, so it becomes a destination place.”

Learn more about Green11 on the company website. The business is currently in the running — through Nov. 15 — for a grant from Chase Bank, but needs 250 votes for consideration. Learn more about the grant; vote here. Connect with Green11 on Facebook.

Berkeley’s Sacramento Street corridor on the rise (11.01.13)
Duo to open Creekwood restaurant in South Berkeley (10.24.13)
Calling all artists: Chances to make your mark in Berkeley (09.19.13)
Sacramento Street mural honors history, brightens area (08.16.13)
Partners to open Take 5 Café as new Berkeley hub (07.31.13)
South Berkeley neighbors ask city for help to improve (04.19.13)
New beer garden, burger spot for South Berkeley (03.15.13)
New street banners give Berkeley neighborhoods identity (03.04.13)
Neighborhood revival: Kick-starting the Lorin district (04.27.10)

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • Bob

    So ugly! I would not want that in my neighborhood!

  • Bryan Garcia

    I’m sorry, but this just looks very unattractive.

    Also, that rendering seems very inaccurate. Is each of those stores going to have like 36 square feet of space??? Who knew you could fit four businesses in a shipping container!

    No sir, I don’t like it.

  • Cory

    Awesome! I am so interested in this, both the planned product line and the re-used shipping container building. Good luck!

  • Chris J

    I don’t find it ugly–but smart use saving costs and also recycled materials. We all live in boxes and visit places that are in boxes. Hope that the city of Berkeley’s zoning folks are reasonable in their dealings with her.

    As for the notion of remembering to bring bottles for shampoo, detergent, etc whenever I shop, I suppose the transition can be effected–though I still forget to bring bags when I shop so it will be a slog for folks hoping that the public will readily shift to reusing shampoo bottles. It can happen, I guess.

  • me

    Very interesting. I have seen shipping containers used as bars and stores in Europe – love the concept. It’s modern and avant-garde.

  • Bill N

    I can see parking as a problem since I would think this would need a lot of retail traffic. The building shown is not as nondescript than the others in this block. I recall at the America’s Cup venue that you couldn’t tell that any of the shops there were re-purposed shipping containers. If she can bring the neighbors along this may well work.

  • serkes

    I like it … still wondering how the google delivery barge will sail from Treasure Island, make it under the BNSF tracks, and then up Ashby … but if Fitzcarraldo could do it, so can they!


  • Bryan Garcia

    Today’s “modern and avant-garde” is tomorrow’s dated kitsch.

  • M.E. Lawrence

    Yeah, it’s a cool idea; and much of the aesthetic quality depends on color(s) and landscaping. A contractor in-law of mine–I believe inspired by European colleagues–transforms dumpsters into swimming pools and installs them on empty Brooklyn lots, along with umbrella tables, cabanas, and wet bars: urban beaches.

  • Bill N

    Yeah, like Berkeley’s stucco blobs!

  • cruzyogadude

    Shipping containers aside, it’s a nice idea: cut the wholesaler out of the cleaning products pipeline: buy in industrial containers, fill the customer’s own containers, and everybody gets a good price. Kind of the way groceries worked 100 years ago when more items were “in bulk,” and probably still does work in many parts of the world.

    As for the shipping containers, why not? Certainly no uglier than most inexpensive retail buildings being built these days. And I’ve seen projects where they’ve been used attractively. I like the roof garden.

  • cruzyogadude

    (shrug) just looks functional to me.

    Across the street from me they’re building a couple of bland concrete titlt-ups with those odd-angled facades that makes them look like something out of a ‘toon.

    But they’re just concrete tilt-ups.

  • Peter Moore

    I’m looking forward to it. Hope there are too many hoops to jump through from the city to set this up.

  • daniel

    I think it’s great! I live around the corner from here, and am looking forward to having such a unique business in our neighborhood.

  • BadGas
  • emraguso

    Here’s another view. Each container is 160 square feet and Bettina said there’s the option of renting more than one and potentially connecting them. You can view the whole application here:

  • sacto neighbor

    This sacramento street neighborhood between dwight and alactraz deserves a neighborhood name (like the lorin district or temescal or elmwood). Any suggestions?

  • Andi

    As a resident of this neighborhood, I think it is an exciting idea and I look forward to seeing it happen! I hope my Chase vote helps.

  • Doug F

    “Limaco said she hopes to get moving soon with city planning and building approvals,” I think she’s in for a shock when she hits those.

  • Mbfarrel

    A friend of mine built an elegant home out of containers. What you do with them seems to be limited more by one’s imagination than by the materials at hand.
    I don’t think they faced strenuous neighborhood objections or lawsuits. Berkeley is obviously more sophisticated.

  • Peter Moore

    I like South Berkeley.

  • anonymous

    How about SoBe

  • BrianY

    Huh. I had never noticed that Sea Breeze was a container building. I guess that testifies to how they can be made attractive, or at least non-obvious.

    And the architect must be incorrect in the assertion that “Green11 would be the first publicly accessible structure made from shipping containers in Berkeley”.

  • Bardot2000

    It looks like a thoughtful development. A couple of comments: 1) For people who shop at co-ops (or even the Berkeley Bowl), we’ve been refilling soap, shampoo and lotion bottles for decades; 2) a roof deck open to the public should be accessible to all — including people who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids.

  • Berky

    A proven, sustainably designed and constructed building for a socially and environmentally responsible local business community in an area sorely in need of all three…what more can Berkeley ask for?

    The rough rendering of the plan above aside, an open design contest can ensure something beautiful and locally conceived, e.g. NZ:

    Innovative and entrepreneurial in the best possible sense, Ms. Limaco deserves our constructive support.

  • anon

    If you know anything about architecture, those renderings have to be PERFECTLY accurate! They measure the space EXACTLY and work on it with a program called CAD. A standard shipping container is 8′ x 20′ = 160 square feet approximately. Below is an example of another shipping container “mall” in London.

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    I love the idea, but will wait to see exactly what products are available, especially if any will be tried-and-true name brands.

  • SacStreetNeighbor

    This is the most interesting & sensible development – and business idea – I’ve seen locally in awhile. I live in the neighborhood walking distance from the proposed site & agree that single use plastics is wasteful. I would LOVE to be able to refill. The shipping containers are not ugly- and certainly not more so than the Leggo architecture, overpriced apartment complexes springing up all over Berkeley. But smart is a threat to some, so….

  • Robbin Noir

    Not ugly! Actually better looking than the neighboring buildings & better than the boring boxes that make up the way-too-expensive apartment buildings scattering the landscape like baby blocks. A refilling business is a great idea!! I live nearby & would use this service. Finally, some good business ideas in keeping with sensible living!

  • emraguso

    Thanks for asking, Bettina tells us, “I am still working on it but getting super close – keeping fingers crossed for Spring 2017…” We are so curious to see it!