Cody’s Bookstore in Berkeley to close

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 2:52 pm, Monday, May 15, 2006

One of the biggest and most iconic bookstores in one of America’s biggest book-towns is soon to be no more. Cody’s Books on Berkeley’s famous Telegraph Avenue will shut down in July. Hands are wringing from coast to coast, and the wringers wail: “But why?” Well, because of money. And how not to make any. Launched in 1956 with a $5,000 loan, Cody’s was a prominent fixture for decades on a student-thronged street that was once the scene of rallies, revolutions, revelations and ribaldry. But something — what? the promise of profits? — lured its current owners to open two more stores. It’s always funny but bittersweet when companies based in capitalism-hating Berkeley, whose downtown was officially off-limits to chain stores until very recently, hear the siren song of cash registers and decide to expand: to become chains, though God forbid that they call themselves that; they’re independent even as they replicate, even as they keep badmouthing Borders and B&N. But even a semiliterate child could have advised them against opening a new Cody’s in downtown San Francisco, within a few blocks of several other established major stores. Talk about a dollar-drain. But that’s not the store destined to vanish, come July. The original Telegraph Avenue store is doomed, because even there, business is way down. This is history happening. Telegraph has transformed from a trendsetters’ haven to a squalid gauntlet that even students tend to avoid. And that’s because Berkeley and its student body have changed, though hardly anyone wants to admit these facts, either. Last month, signs went up announcing that students were staging a lunchtime anti-sweatshop protest on campus — nude. Twenty or thirty years ago, the prospect of shouting, naked guys and gals would have been a major event, attracting news media and crowds. Maybe even ten years ago — but in 2006, passersby barely even cast a glance at the dozen or so protesters, who just stood there forlornly, alone, not even nude but wearing underwear, beating drums. What if you gave a clothing-optional protest and nobody came? Berkeley’s radical mien is in many ways more of a tourist attraction today than bone-deep. These days you need about a 4.3 GPA to gain admittance to UCB. There’s too much studying going on, too many required texts, to allow for much hangin’ out in bookstores anymore. The Beat generation is over, its icons in their graves, their grandchildren in the biochem lab or … um … blogging.

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