Cody's Books of Berkeley, RIP

Aw, shit. Cody's Books, the half-century-old Berkeley bookstore that has long been an East Bay institution -- one of the truly great west coast stores -- has closed its doors forever.

After 52 years, Cody's Books will shut its doors effective June 20, 2008. The Berkeley bookstore has been a beacon to readers and writers throughout the nation and across the world. Founded by Fred and Pat Cody in 1956, Cody's has been a Berkeley institution and a pioneer in the book business, helping to establish such innovations as quality paperbacks and in-store author readings. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Cody's was a landmark of the Free Speech movement and was a home away from home for innumerable authors, poets and readers.

The Board of Directors of Cody's Books made this difficult decision after years of financial distress and declining sales.

According to Cody's president, Hiroshi Kagawa, "[It] is a heartbreaking moment…in the spring of 2005 when I learned about the financial crisis facing Cody's, I was excited to save the store from bankruptcy. Unfortunately, my current business is not strong enough or rich enough to support Cody's. Of course, the store has been suffering from low sales and the deficit exceeds our ability to service it."

It was an incredible honor to stop at Cody's for a signing on my book tour last month -- I'm really glad I got a chance to connect with the wonderful staff and patrons there while the store was still around. Link (Thanks, Spincycle)

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  1. Well this is unfortunate, the one across the street from the Downtown San Francisco Apple Store also closed a while ago, literally just after I had discovered it (I had meant to go to Stacey’s books that day but I remembered they were closed on Sundays so I went looking for another one). RIP Cody’s Books. :-(

    Sebastian

  2. Cody’s old location on Telegraph Ave has closed for good, but they have reopened on the corner of Shattuck Ave and Allston Way, where Cory had his book signing (and where other authors will continue visiting – see http://www.codysbooks.com/calendar ). By the way, I’m sorry I missed you, Cory. I was out of town that day.

    Anyway, the location is brand spankin’ new, so while the new Cody’s doesn’t have the well-worn, homely feel the original had, the people and the books are still in town. And Pegasus books, a few blocks south, also on Shattuck, is another great bookstore if you want a good bibliophile atmosphere. Cheers.

  3. That’s a shame! Their info desk folks were some of the nicest most helpful ones you’ll ever meet.

    Sad that they had just moved to the Shattuck St location you visited only a few months ago. (I missed ya, sorry!) Guess it really didn’t work out. Although I do have to say the Sci-Fi section at that location was a shade of it’s former self.

    I used to shop in the old Telegraph location regularly. Funny thing was there were always two cash registers manned, and always a couple of folks waiting in line, books in hand. It [i]looked[/i] like they were doing business. But, obviously not enough.

    I’ll miss ’em for sure. I hope Moe’s survives.

  4. Really? I thought they just opened a new one down on Shattuck in the space that Eddie Bauer vacated. That’s to bad but I have to say that their philosophy section was pretty sorry. All they had were “…for beginners” books and some secondary interpretive sources. Very few primary texts.

    I have to say that I am partial to Moe’s Books on Telegraph. It’s our own little Strand / Powell’s.

    I will always remember the day that President Clinton came to Cody’s when it was still up on Telegraph for his book-signing. The line that formed for this event wound round blocks, up and down streets..it must have been over a mile long — I really do think it is the longest line I have ever seen for anything, including Star Wars, 1973 gasoline, the iPhone, hipster sneakers, Harry Potter books, etc.

  5. It’s weird that Cody’s would close so soon after its big move. I live in Berkeley and, for as long as I could remember, Cody’s was always right in the heart of Telegraph avenue. Earlier this year Cody’s changed locations to a smaller building in the downtown area, in between about five other book stores. It seemed like a bad decision to me, but I guess they couldn’t afford the lease on their old building and had no choice but to move.

    It’s sad to see them go.

  6. I weep for the passing of Cody’s books. I’ve been using Cody’s books since I was a child. I feel as though a part of my personality has been removed.
    Nothing lasts forever, I know, but some things *should* last forever. Crud.

  7. That said, I feel my last post was really ungenerous. We really should be sorry that a bookstore cannot stay in business in Berkeley of all places. The truth is that I just really cannot afford new books anymore and so I feel kind of helpless when a place like Cody’s closes. I really depend on used books and the library. And as many people know, many libraries are closing their doors as funding is cut for public services and the commons.

    But just a month ago I went into the new Cody’s looking for some books by Schopenhauer and I was prepared to pay almost any price as I was about to leave the country and really needed them. There was nothing. In fact, I think that, like B&N and Borders, New Age stuff had begun to infiltrate the philosophy section. That was disheartening.

    Even the B&N on Shattuck closed down last year to be replaced by some kind of office super-store.

    The only bookstores that seem to survive in Berkeley now are the specialty stores. I’ll mention a few stores that I really like in the hope of saving them from Cody’s fate:

    University Press Books on Bancroft (The one with the sign that says something like “10 Thousand Minds On Fire” – which incidentally caused me to avoid it for my first year in Berkeley because I thought it was some Tibetan New Age themed bookstore – but it is not) academic books – all the best recently published books from university presses – great philosophy, art criticism, political analysis, sociology, anthropology, etc. etc.

    Turtle Island Book Shop on Claremont – a really wonderful source for out-of-print art books and books dealing with California history — lots of Arts and Crafts era books, classic literature, Beat poet stuff.

    Dark Carnival Imaginative Fiction Book Store also on Claremont – (in the same structure as Turtle Island actually) – Pretty much every horror or science fiction book you have ever looked for is here. Labyrinthian accumulation as if the owner suffers from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsive_hoarding but that makes it all the better. Lots of Lovecraft. I was out of the country when Cory Doctorow had his “Little Brother” autograph party there, alas.

    Black Oak Books on Shattuck — another great accumulation of new and used books on every subject. Slightly more expensive than Moe’s. Author’s readings / Events.

    And of course, Moe’s again. It’s legend.

    Let’s keep these places in business.

  8. I’ve only been to Berkeley once, for a few days. I walked into Cody’s- it seemed a friendly place. There wasn’t too much on the shelves, true, but there was something about the place that made me feel good. The cashier was smiling. I walked out with a copy of The Marlinspike Sailor.

    I go to a lot of bookstores, I don’t know why I even remembered this one in particular.

  9. I left the Bay area in 2000 and have only been back sporadically. I loved getting over to Cody’s whenever I could. Picking up a new book and eating a slice of pizza on Telegraph.

    I was confused about the multiple locations and whether this announcement only pertained to the Berkeley store. Here’s what the Berkeley Daily Planet had to say: “Cody’s Books, founded on Telegraph Avenue in 1956, expanded to Fourth Street in 1998 and San Francisco in 2005, closed on Telegraph in 2006, closed in San Francisco the following year, moved to Shattuck Avenue in March, and then, yesterday, on June 19, 2008, went out of business”

  10. I’m glad I saw Cody’s one last time when I went to Cory’s Little Brother reading/signing there last month.

    It was my first time in the new store on Shattuck, and it seemed like a shadow of its former glory on Telegraph so I’m not too surprised to hear it’s gone now, but it’s a bit saddening.

    But maybe it will return someday, like Kepler’s did in Menlo Park.

  11. Hurrah for the Internet, the bookpersons dream thanks to Amazon. The books I order are typically 40%-50% cheaper, with free delivery. I save a bundle on using Amazon by eliminating impulse buying of the books I will not read. Then there is the selection on Amazon! Cody’s was a brave book store. They carried how to grow-pot-books when EVERYONE else was so afraid of the DEA that they refused even to carry High Times. Cody’s was there. Then there was the time they carried a book written by Salmon Rushdie, and in the dead of night someone set fire to a stack of Rushdie’s books and started a larger fire. And of course the pictures of all the authors who spoke at
    Cody’s. Ah Cody’s, your time has come.

  12. Sad to hear they’ve finally closed down completely. I worked at the Telegraph location for about a year (’05-’06) when they were trying to make a go of three locations, including downtown SF. Cody’s Telegraph was always a kooky place, with kooky and fun people, very Berkeley. If a general bookstore like Cody’s can’t make it in Berkeley (the most literate town I’ve ever known), where could any independent bookstore make it?

    Powell’s survived and throve because they had the foresight to jump on the internet bandwagon early and develop a topnotch site – not so much for sales per se, though I’m sure that’s a focus. Cody’s never did much with the internet and couldn’t correct the mistake when the shit started coming down. I blame the river and corporate box stores and their patrons somewhat too.

    I suppose in hard times plenty of readers will turn – as I most certainly do – to the libraries. Can’t really fault anyone for that, but it’s a shame nonetheless.

  13. I’m kind of amazed that there are any negative comments at all. Cody’s and Green Apple Books in San Francisco were the best book stores in the bay area.

    I’m not going to attempt some sort of online shopping vs. bookstore shopping thing, but I personally like to browse and be around books, and there are quite a few of my favorite books that were impulse buys.

  14. I was the person who submitted this story, and I have a close family member who was/is one of the people who had to make this awful, difficult decision.

    These wonderful poeple – the employees, the sales staff, the buyers, the managers – BELIEVE IN BOOKS. That’s why they’re there. Trust me, it’s not because they were making big bucks.

    I was lucky enough to grow up, almost entirely literally, in Cody’s, first on Telegraph, then at the 4th st store. I never did get a chance to see the SF store or the final location downtown.

    Aside from my family member’s difficult, personal issues with this closure, it’s a sad, worrisome sign of things to come.

    I don’t want to read my books on a computer screen (thanks, O’Reilly, for not letting me print my newest purchase from you legally!).

    I don’t want to shop for books by mouse click.

    I want to walk into the old Cody’s (or Powell’s, or the Tattered Cover, for that matter) that I remember and in which I spent so many countless hours as a young teen, and discover the world through the printed word by holding paper in my hands. I want to feel the paper under my fingers. I want to browse secrions stocked with books that perhaps one person in a thousand would even look at – and to be magically transported by said book.

    Do I shop at Amazon? Yes, I admit it. But we have lost — collectively, all of us — something with this closure.

    I can only hope that we will not lose ALL such wonderful things in our headlong dash towards/through the future.

    The bookstore is dead! God save the bookstore!

  15. This has been a slow motion death over the course of several years. I think once the flagship store on telegraph was gone, nothing was going to save it.The multiple locations, changing locations–it was even hard for customers to find it. Let’s face it, some poor business decisions were made and the hurts just kept on hurting. They opened a huge new store, and it was gone within a year.

    I think it’s easy to say “a harbinger of doom!! All indie bookstores will close!!” I don’t think that’s true. BUT, what is true is that you can no longer run a successful bookselling business if you are a book-loving eccentric who sees the business aspect as secondary. (Which is really too bad, because many of the best stores have/had owners that fit that precise description.)

    The “beloved indie bookstore is dying!!” thing is so pervasive that I get calls all the time at my store (which is doing tremendously well) from people who heard a rumor we were barely limping along and about to shut down. Not true. But if we can’t compete with Amazon, we have to provide some kind of human experience that amazon can’t.

  16. “The truth is that I just really cannot afford new books anymore and so I feel kind of helpless when a place like Cody’s closes. I really depend on used books and the library.”

    Berkeley is way too expensive.

    “Powell’s survived and throve because they had the foresight to jump on the internet bandwagon early and develop a topnotch site – not so much for sales per se, though I’m sure that’s a focus. Cody’s never did much with the internet and couldn’t correct the mistake when the shit started coming down. I blame the river and corporate box stores and their patrons somewhat too.”

    Berkeley is trying to remain local/small town, kind of like, say, a smaller Northern California town like Bolinas or something, but that tactic doesn’t seem to be working for businesses (see all of the empty storefronts and failed businesses on Telegraph and Shattuck). Berkeley’s so close to big-money Silicon Valley and San Francisco, and there are so many rich kids from Southern California and the rest of the country attending the university, that rents and mortgages are driven way up and prices are so expensive–who has the money to buy books etc? And a lot of the housing stock is crappy for the prices.

    Berekely’s a weird town. Has anyone here thought much about this? I also kind of get the feeling that Berkeley’s unprogressive, head-in-the-sand kind of business/economics climate contributed to Cody’s not taking advantage of the internet sooner like someone mentioned Powells did. Kind of like, by trying to protect its local businesses from competition, they didn’t have to innovate, such as by developing more of an internet sales strategy. Strange town, that Berkeley. If you want authentic small Northern California town, try downtown Alameda or something–though maybe that’s way overpriced now too?

  17. “Berkeley’s so close to big-money Silicon Valley and San Francisco, and there are so many rich kids from Southern California and the rest of the country attending the university, that rents and mortgages are driven way up and prices are so expensive–who has the money to buy books etc?”

    Does anyone know why Telegraph and Shattuck seem to have been on the decline in the last decade? It seems that any kids and adults with money would much rather spend it in San Francisco or on the internet–I kind of think by restricting the sorts of businesses that can be built in Berkerley, in trying to keep a small-town feel, Berkeley has alienated its shopping base, making it harder for even the local businesses to survive. Kind of recipe for a ghost town, and a sure way to kill of local stores like Codys, even if that’s what the small-town, no chain store policies were trying to prevent?

  18. It’s pretty common for even the most brilliant businesses to close when they try to expand beyond their means. Anybody remember The Other Cafe in San Francisco? It was one of the world’s great comedy clubs. They expanded to a second location and three months later were boarding up the windows. People who run creative neighborhood businesses don’t always have the skills or personalities to sustain that kind of expansion.

  19. No doubt that Berkeley’s odd economy and business policies contributed to this. But I have to say that the Telegraph Ave. Cody’s staff was so rude to me on multiple occasions a couple of years ago that I intentionally started shopping elsewhere and am not really sad to see it go. Keeping the hipsters behind the registers from casually insulting the customers might not have broadened their customer base as much as internet sales would have, but it would have given a greater percentage of the very diverse, literate population of Berkeley a reason to prefer the local bookstore experience to internet shopping. Amazon.com has never insulted my appearance within my earshot or laughed at my queries, and the experience I’ve missed out on by shopping online from a nearby cafe instead of at Cody’s is one I’m happy to forego. And I imagine I’m not the only member of the book-buying public for whom Cody’s was an uncomfortable place. Long live friendly local bookstores, but the only tragedy involved with Cody’s closing is that yet another storefront in downtown Berkeley will be bleakly vacant.

  20. I went to Cal and spent probably 70% of my free time in the used bookstores.

    It’s sad that Cody’s is closing, but I was never really impressed with the store anyway. Not a lot of selection. Once a light bulb burned out in a nearby section (not the one I was in, a few rows down) and they asked me to leave the store because it was dark over there.

    I assumed that they did it to stop people from stealing anything until the light was fixed, but once I was outside I noticed that no one else was being asked to leave.

    Moe’s on the other hand, relieved me of much of my income, and I never failed to find something awesome. Them and Rasputin’s.

  21. > Once a light bulb burned out in a nearby
    > section (not the one I was in, a few rows down)
    > and they asked me to leave the store because it
    > was dark over there.
    >
    > I assumed that they did it to stop people from
    > stealing anything until the light was fixed,
    > but once I was outside I noticed that no one
    > else was being asked to leave.

    Who staffs college area bookstores?

    COLLEGE KIDS. Don’t blamee the store. Blame the idiot and his floor manager.

    1. Spincycle,

      I don’t know why your cut and paste is inserting artificial line breaks, but could you make it not happen again?

  22. roses are red.
    violet are blue
    Cody’s ran out of steam
    I stopped shopping at Cody’s because t ws jst s stpd. I did like the staff, Hi Pooh.

  23. The brick-and-mortar bookstore business model is dead. While it’s sad to see Cody’s go, it was inevitable once web book sellers like Amazon came into the market.

    Bookstores like Cody’s are simply going to have to figure out a different way to get people into their locations and make money a different way, it’s really that simple. Not easy but simple. Places like Cody’s apparently couldn’t do that but maybe there simply isn’t a way to make that model work anymore.

    Please don’t use Kepler’s as a shining example of how to make such a model work. They shut down and blamed a ‘bad lease’ for their predicament. Uh… hello? You SIGNED that lease, no one made you sign a ‘bad lease’. Make book on it (no pun intended): Kepler’s will be gone again for good in a year or two at most.

    Oh, btw: a lot of people are lamenting the passing of Cody. But they wouldn’t be gone if all those same people had simply continued to shop at Cody’s. Talk is cheap, people talking with where they actually choose to spend their money says SO much more about how people truly believe.

  24. In the early 80’s when I moved to Oakland to go to art school, the book and record stores on Telegraph Ave in Berkeley were a constant attraction. Getting a couple of hotdogs at Top Dog’s capped off the perfect bohemian Friday night.

    Cody’s was always the place I would go to see what was new in art books, or anything else that was new for that matter. As far as I know they never sold used books. Shakespeare and Moe’s were the place for that.

    By the mid 90’s, I was long out of patience with the scene on Telegraph. The only thing that would get me into that neighborhood was the Berkeley Art Museum.

    Lamenting the vanishing Real Bookshops reminds me of the similar transition in cinema – the VCR killing off the repertory theaters. There are a few still, but there used to be LOTS of them.

  25. I feel bad for the people that loved it, but Cody’s had a poor sci-fi section, the staff was rude to me at least once when i was asking after a book by Brian Haig.

    If you love sci-fi in the SF East Bay, i recommend Other Change Of Hobbit in Berkeley.

  26. Cody’s also offered something you’d never find at Amazon: free same-day delivery… by bicycle, via Pedal Express.

  27. who are we bullshitting? moe’s is waaay better and has a toilet, cody’s was where people went to read magazines by the flowers.

  28. Cody’s had a toilet,It included a trough, we used read our magazines while standing there, next to the flowers. Moe’s was a hole in the wall.

  29. Wow – they didn’t seem like they were doing that badly when I stopped in to get something for the trip home from WWDC. Their sci-fi selection could have been better, though, and I was amused to buy a Tiptree bio from their staff pics list but get the hipper-than-thou look when I asked if they had any actual Tiptree novels…

  30. BTW, Green Apple is still alive and well in SF, as is City Lights, both of which are great stores with hard to find stuff and, in the case of GA, a huge used book annex. And music. And smart friendly people. The bookstore is not dead. Maybe it’s just Berkeley that’s on life support. It’s one of those places–no offense to those who live there–that I just never quite “got.” It feels kind of sprawling and slightly tacky, vaguely suburban.

  31. trickledown, that’s exactly the issue… a lot of policies are built around keeping businesses from being successful, and the end result is that a lot of Berkeley residents do 50% or more of their shopping in neighboring towns like Emeryville and El Cerrito. I do think it will change eventually, but I also think the Shattuck and Telegraph neighborhoods are going to get worse before they get better. Let’s not forget that Cody’s left Telegraph in the first place because of problems with crime, filth, and parking… problems that are endemic to both Telegraph and Shattuck shopping areas. It’s harder to maintain a successful business when the sidewalks are covered with urine, broken glass and homeless people yelling obscenities at each other.

  32. We really should be sorry that a bookstore cannot stay in business in Berkeley of all places.

    This is a common and totally reasonable reaction – but it’s not the problem. Cody’s was literally surrounded by thriving independent bookstores, all of which are still thriving. Like Charlie Wade wrote:

    Please don’t use Kepler’s as a shining example of how to make such a model work. They shut down and blamed a ‘bad lease’ for their predicament. Uh… hello? You SIGNED that lease, no one made you sign a ‘bad lease’. Make book on it (no pun intended): Kepler’s will be gone again for good in a year or two at most.

    Cody’s was the same way. They had a fantastic bookstore, and a huge fan base, and they were plagued with terrible business decisions. And, unfortunately, they spent a lot of time looking outside of the business for something to blame: the homeless people, the lack of parking, the construction nearby, college students for not buying their books there, people at large for not reading….

    I went by there today to find it closed, despite the very visible full shelves of books throughout the store and the dozens of customers yanking one after another at the locked doors. On our way back to the car, my friends found a recycling bin full of Cody’s Books paperwork, including personal correspondence from customers with the customers’ addresses and other information intact. I blogged about it, and all the chaos I saw it go through over the past decade or so – I suppose by way of goodbye to a great, but ultimately frustrating, store.

    (And if we find anything excitingly incriminating in the box of paperwork my friends grabbed, I’ll be posting about that too….)

  33. I was their last sysadmin.
    I’m coming back here. However I need to edit (HEAVILY) my response first…

  34. Charlie Ward seems to be the kind of person who decides for himself what a situation is, regardless of the facts. I work at Kepler’s now, although I didn’t when they shut down, and the only thing I can say is that the real reasons Kepler’s closed its doors were far more complex than just “a bad lease”. In point of fact, we’re pretty stable now, profitable even, and not going away any time soon.

    And yes, it was a bad lease. Signed when the business plan was a lot more optimistic than the dot.com bust allowed. “no one made you sign it” isn’t really sufficient for a condemnation, not in a business environment like that. It wasn’t just Kepler’s, either – the small business environment in pretty much the entire Bay Area took one hell of a hit, back then.

    Be all this as it may, the loss of independent bookstores, no matter where they are, is a tragedy we should all, as booklovers, be mourning. I would never have seen half the stuff I love to read now if some person, some real live person, hadn’t handed a book to me or pointed one out — a service that Amazon, good as it is (and there’s not many places better for getting hard-to-find recent books), can’t even come close to providing.

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