Berkeley tattoo shop owner says business was targeted by arsonist

The owner of a tattoo shop in Berkeley says his business was targeted by an arsonist and is searching for answers.

James, who did not want to give his last name, said the fire caused extensive damage to his business and that's going to prevent him from re-opening this week. It would have been the first time in months his shop would have opened because of the pandemic. 

James says he has no idea why his shop Jesse James Tattoo would have been targeted.

It is located on Euclid Avenue, just steps from UC Berkeley.

He said he's never had trouble at the shop before this incident.

James said he was planning on re-opening April 1 after being shut down due to the pandemic.

Now, he doesn't know what he'll do next. 

"Everything you see is gone," said James as he walked through what's left of his shop.

He says there's nothing left to salvage after someone deliberately set his shop on fire.

On March 18 at 5:16 a.m., a person is seen and heard on surveillance video breaking the front window and hurling an object inside. Flames spread quickly.

"Within 2-3 minutes, everything is gone," said James. "Scared. Not knowing who did it and why."

James showed a KTVU crew what's left of two plastic containers containing a chemical that may have been the accelerant used to set the fire.

"That's the Molotov [cocktail]. You could see the towel," said James. He said he doesn't know why his business was targeted.

But he can't help but question if the motive may be that he's Mexican American and the two artists who work in his shop are members of the LGBTQ community.

"We never did anything to nobody. We get along with other tattoo shops. We don't have problems with nobody," said James.  

A neighboring business, The Campus Store also has surveillance video that owner Mohamed Alameri said he's provided to Berkeley Police.

It shows the person holding something while walking shortly before the fire.

"Somebody walking around with a gas can and a hammer and start smacking the window like he owned the block. He knows what he's doing  He came to target that business," said Alameri.  

James is now stuck turning clients away. "Having to tell them sorry we're closed and stuck here cleaning a mess," James said.

He said he realized his dream five years ago when he opened this shop.

"My goal is to reopen. My goal was to keep this shop going forever, but now I don't know," said James.

He said he discontinued his renter's insurance when he closed the business during the pandemic.

KTVU reached out to Berkeley Police, but they were unable to provide any additional information. 

Berkeley Fire did not respond.

James said he wants the person responsible to pay for the damages.

A gofundme has been set up to help with expense costs.