Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Another of the Truly Great Bookstores Passes On
Monday, June 23, 2008
(06-22) 17:13 PDT Berkeley -- Cody's Books, the legendary Berkeley bookstore that catered to literati nationwide for more than half a century and was firebombed in the 1980s because of its support of the First Amendment, has closed its doors, the victim of lagging sales.
The bookstore, which in recent years had closed its flagship store on Telegraph Avenue and its branches in San Francisco and on Berkeley's Fourth Street, finally settling in early April in one store on Shattuck Avenue, shuttered that store Friday.
Calling it "a heartbreaking moment," Cody's owner, Hiroshi Kagawa of the Japanese firm IBC Publishing, said in a statement, "unfortunately, my current business is not strong enough or rich enough to support Cody's."
"Cody's is my treasure and more than that, Cody's is a real friend of (the) Berkeley community and will be missed," Kagawa said.
Pat Cody, one of the store's co-founders, said the closing "makes me very sad. We worked so hard and we put so much into it, and it meant a lot to the community. It's a big loss."
The death knell was sounded a few months ago, when the rent on Cody's store on Fourth Street was nearly tripled, according to general manager Mindy Galoob, "so we moved really fast over to Shattuck. We were hopeful it would work out. We had downsized our staff and had a smaller inventory." But sales "were not anywhere near what was needed."
Andy Ross, who owned the store from 1977 until mid-2006, when he sold it to Kagawa, said Sunday about the closing, "It's no mystery - what's happened to Cody's is what has happened to independent stores for many years. People are going somewhere else (for books). A lot of people like the allure of the Internet or chain stores. And a lot of people don't read."
Ross said that "when Cody's was doing quite well, independent stores had 40 to 50 percent of the market. Now they're down to about 3 percent of the market. In the late 1980s and into 1990, on a good Saturday Cody's on Telegraph Avenue would do $30,000 in business. More recently, a typical Saturday would bring $10,000 worth. The business declined by two-thirds. Costs were up, and sales were down."
More than just dollars and cents, however, Cody's was something of a symbol in Berkeley, a witness to and supporter of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, a well-stocked cornerstone of literacy for the thousands of students and faculty patrons from nearby UC Berkeley and a practitioner, in its own right, of free-speech principles.
In February 1989, Cody's was firebombed, and an unexploded pipe bomb was later found inside the store. This all happened shortly after the store had prominently displayed Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" at a time when many in the Muslim world were outraged by Rushdie's novel, and the author had to go into hiding because of threats on his life.
It was never conclusively proven that Cody's was bombed specifically because of its display of Rushdie's book, but Ross said Sunday that threats to Rushdie and to bookstores that stocked it were taken so seriously that he had to call a meeting of his staff to discuss whether to display the book.
"The whole staff voted unanimously to sell the book," Ross said. "The workers were not getting rich off this store, but were willing to risk their lives for an idea. It was the moment I was most proud of."
It was also a store that brought authors from around the world, including Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners, to read their works to audiences who gathered at the Telegraph Avenue store.
One local Pulitzer Prize winner, Berkeley author Michael Chabon, said of Cody's closing, "I think it's a terrible shame. It was a wonderful bookstore. It's painful, sort of like watching someone suffering from a chronic illness painfully and slowly die. (Cody's was) part of the fabric of Berkeley, the social fabric and commercial fabric."
Asked if Cody's might some day reopen, in the same manner as Kepler's, the Menlo Park bookstore that abruptly closed in August 2005, and then was resurrected two months later with help from the local community, Galoob said, "We're open to miracles happening, but I don't think there are plans to find a buyer. Of course, if somebody has an extra million, please send it along. I'll be sure to take them to lunch."
She paused for a moment, then said, "it's pretty much done."
Milestones in the life of Cody's Books
July 9, 1956: The store is founded by Fred and Pat Cody in a small shop on Euclid Avenue, near the UC Berkeley campus.
November 1960: Cody's moves to larger quarters on the 2400 block of Telegraph Avenue.
December 1965: Cody's moves to the big store farther up the block to the store that became its most famous locale.
July 9, 1977: Andy Ross buys Cody's.
July 9, 1983: Fred Cody dies.
February 1989: the store is firebombed during the controversy over Salman Rushdie's book "The Satanic Verses."
November 1997: A branch of Cody's is opened on Fourth Street in Berkeley.
September 2005: Another Cody's branch opens on Stockton Street in San Francisco.
July 10, 2006: The flagship store on Telegraph Avenue closes.
September 2006: Andy Ross sells Cody's to a Japanese firm.
April 2007: The San Francisco branch closes.
March 2008: Berkeley's Fourth Street branch closes.
April 1, 2008: Cody's opens its only remaining store, on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley.
June 20, 2008: Cody's Books closes.
E-mail Michael Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle