BERKELEY -- A north side sustainability pioneer that brought warmth and comfort to many a local home is changing its identity after 26 years, and reopening in the same location.
Reliance Antiques and Appliance, a company that sold rustic farm tables from reclaimed wood and restored classic stoves, is reopening Jan. 1 in its present location as Reliance and Caseber Appliance. Owners Doug and Pat Harbo are ditching the farm table part of the business and focusing on selling reconditioned appliances and doing appliance repair.
The two entrepreneurs purchased an existing business, Caseber Washers and Dryers, in August, and will run that business out of their location at Gilman and Sixth streets. The Caseber business will operate out of the back half of the building, reconditioning washers, dryers and other appliances that will then be offered for sale, and also doing service calls on most appliances.
Meanwhile, the Harbos' son Matt will continue to do service calls on classic gas stoves such as Wedgewood and O'Keefe & Merritt.
Pat Harbo said the company's final month in its former incarnation as Reliance Antiques and Appliance was bittersweet.
"We've been seeing so many people coming in to say how much it has meant to them to have one of our tables to sit around on holidays, or just every day. Their kids do their homework at the table, they have talks at the table. Many come in teary-eyed," Pat Harbo said.
While many will miss the farm table business, the appliance part of the business will continue going strong, she said.
The 26-year-old company's story is a true Berkeley tale. Founder Doug Harbo went to Yale, then studied law at UC Berkeley for a while, but decided he didn't want to spend his life in the corporate world.
Dropping out of law school, he went to appliance repair school and established his business. He and his then-wife Teresa Harbo decided to add vintage 1950s stoves to their repertoire.
"Then they figured nice furniture went with the stoves," said Pat Harbo. In true Berkeley style, the two began recycling used tabletops.
"We got a lot of them from Europe over the years. They came from Eastern Europe, old Russian barns," said Pat Harbo. "Later on, we got teak ones from Asian buildings."
They adapted them to offer buyers choices.
"We buy the tabletops and then we give people options of different bases. They can pick and choose and say how long they want a table to be," Pat Harbo said.
"They always had just a wonderful eye for selecting beautiful reclaimed woods from all over the world and shipping them back and making really beautiful furniture from them," said Kristin Myles, a longtime Reliance customer.
"We bought our kitchen table and chair and other pieces of furniture from them. I've always admired the company for their entrepreneurial spirit and seeing the beauty in the woods," said Myles, a Kensington resident.
"All five of their kids worked there at one time or another," Myles said. You don't see that so much anymore -- a true family business where children and parents put their whole heart and soul into the business and each other."
The store will continue with its core mission that fits well with the mantra of reuse.
"We want to save old appliances from going into the landfill and releasing toxic substances," Doug Harbo said. "We will recondition them instead and they'll be good for many more years of use."
Reliance and Caseber Appliance is at 830 Gilman St. Details are online at relianceantiques.com, and relianceappliance.com.