Real estate

Retail sales in Berkeley decline by $200 million

One of Berkeley's vacant retail properties on Ashby

During the last two years, retail sales in Berkeley have dropped by nearly $200 million, prompting the closure of many stores and leaving numerous vacant storefronts, according to information gathered by the city’s Office of Economic Development.

While the recession is partly responsible, the drop also reflects the impact of some of Berkeley’s long-term planning decisions. The city has focused on creating boutique shopping districts like the Elmwood and Solano Avenue in lieu of creating malls that can hold big-box stores.

As a result, many Berkeley residents travel to Emeryville or Oakland to buy computers, televisions, and other electronics.

“It’s called sales tax leakage,” said Michael J. Caplan, the city’s economic development manager. “Our weakness is the fact that we don’t have the type of stores where people buy the large, taxable items. It’s virtually impossible to buy a television in Berkeley, or men’s clothing, stereo components, or electronics.”

The drop in sales activity translates into a $1.92 million drop in sales tax revenue to the city over a two-year period, according to Dave Fogarty, the city’s economic development project coordinator, who is preparing a report that will be presented to City Council on October 26. All retail areas are slumping, including stores that sell furniture, building materials, garden equipment, sporting goods, clothing, cars, and drugs.

Every shopping district in the city has seen sales drop off, with Fourth Street hit the hardest, said Fogarty. Its sales have declined  23.8% in real dollars (adjusted for inflation) in the last two years.  Sales in stores on University Avenue have declined 20.8%, those in the North Shattuck area have dropped 19.1%, (mostly due to the closing of Elephant Pharmacy) and Solano has seen a decline of 17.7%.

In tough economic times, people stop buying items they don’t absolutely need, and many of Berkeley’s small specialty stores fit into this category, said Caplan.

“The issue is discretionary dollars,” said Caplan. “People in an economic crisis cut back on the most discretionary items first. They have to continue to buy groceries, but they put off buying a new mattress or appliance since they are relatively large expenditures. Since Fourth Street has items for sale that are really discretionary, they have suffered a drop.”

The one bright area in Berkeley’s economy is a surge in the number of restaurants. In the past year, a number of new places have opened, including Revival, Locanda da Eva, Gather, Slow, and Cinnaholic, said Caplan.  With as many as 365 eating establishments, or one restaurant for every 295 people, Berkeley has a larger proportion of food sales than comparable cities.

Berkeley’s Buy Local movement has been effective in showing people the importance of spending their money close to home, said Caplan.

“There has been a real strong emphasis on buying local and the “staycation” phenomenon,” said Caplan. “[Berkeleyans] don’t go to Paris but stay here. They are spending their recreational money here.”

Lori Rosenthal, a realtor with Gordon Commercial real estate company, concurred with that analysis. She has seen a surge in people looking to start new restaurants or existing restaurants looking to expand into a second location. It can be tough to find an appropriate location, though, because Berkeley has restrictions on the number of permits issued for eating establishments, she said.

The slump in Berkeley’s sales started in June 2008, which was later than it started in other California cities, according to Fogarty. Just last month he saw data suggesting the slump is easing.

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  • EBGuy

    For some perspective (Dec. 2008):
    Twenty-five percent of the city’s [Emeryville's] revenue comes from sales taxes collected largely at four large retail centers, including a six-year-old, upscale outdoor promenade, Bay Street Emeryville, home of Elements. The city also has a comprehensive collection of big-box stores, from Best Buy to Home Depot to the huge blue IKEA that hulks prominently over Interstate 80… According to California’s Board of Equalization, Emeryville’s sales tax collections fell 23 percent in the third quarter this year from the same period last year, among the steepest drops in the state.

  • Thomas Lord

    What still amazes me is that discussion of sales is limited to store-front retail. The light industrial zone hosts a few actual light industry manufacturers who look like they do a decent business – and yet with stuff like Bayer we do the opposite of trying to build up Berkeley’s taxable exports and intra-city employment level.

    It doesn’t sound right to say that Berkeley’s weakness is not having big boxes that sell, “TVs, stereo components, men’s clothing, or electronics [sic]“. Those markets are not exactly thriving. Meanwhile there’s at least one audio component manufacturer in town that looks like they’re doing OK.

    The observation about “staycations” keeping some entertainment money in Berkeley seems to me evidence of some resilience and wisdom to our retail corridor zoning choices.

  • Thomas Lord

    EBGuy:

    Well, yeah, exactly. Think about it. What does the city hosting a “Best Buy” or such do?

    It imports retail products.

    It transforms those products by stocking shelves and running cash registers.

    It exports most of those products from its region.

    There’s no margin there. These stores “make” next to nothing. There is no substantial import replacement. Most of the revenue is “pass through” money that flows out of town, untaxed and uncirculated, as fast as it comes in.

    If such a large number of regional folks are “making” what those stores produce, and not much else… who, exactly, is going to be buying in the long run?

  • Sotto Voce

    Landlord rent increases have made it next to impossible for some retailers to stay here. Just a few mega-land owners have changed the face of the economy in Berkeley for their own corpulant profits. They’ve overinflated their real-estate values with lenders, based on listed rents for storefronts that remain vacant. Then, when the properties sit vacant, they take it as a loss. Their selfish tactics smell of the recent Wall Street collapse. With so many vacancies, in a capitalistic society, rents should come down, n’est pas? But no. Must these vultures take us all down with them?

  • Thomas Lord

    Sotto Voce — I’ve long suspected similarly but… can you document it? (I mean document leverage based on arguably BS inflated rents.)

    The over-leverage thing makes sense — but it is not the only possible explanation.

    For example, let’s suppose that shops zoned for restaurants will (at least in the short term) command rents twice as high as those that could host a produce shop. At the same time, if all your spaces were zoned for restaurants and your rent was that high .. your vacancy rate would be 1.7 times higher. Now you have at least a short-term incentive to raise rents, tolerate very high vacancies, lobby for zoning changes, and aim for a state where your vacancy rate is still high … but overall revenue higher than the alternative under the original zoning. That lowers your maintenance and administrative costs, too. And, thanks to prop 13, your tax situation is pretty sweet if you’ve owned the place long enough.

    Must these vultures take us all down with them?

    No but the choice is apparently afforded them, regardless of the mechanism. And, to some degree, they probably have some fiduciary obligation – some of them – to run it this way.

  • Alan Tobey

    We do have another set of potential choices here: what we might call “medium box” retail.

    Best pending example is Wal-Mart, which has announced its intention to open smaller (30-50,00 sf) stores in urban areas, focusing on food but not excluding the potential sale of other goods. That’s about the size of our traditional supermarkets (the former Co-op sites) but far smaller than the 96,000 sf suburban-model Lucky’s store in El Cerrito Plaza. All of these provide traditional surface parking lots, making their actual land uses at least twice that of the store alone (only the West Berkeley Bowl has developed a European-urban-model store with garage parking).

    Such urbanized medium-boxes could perhaps be an interesting answer to where Berkeleyans can buy “needed daily stuff” that isn’t edible while cutting down on the driving trips to suburban malls and Emeryville faux-small-town “shopping streets.” But how would we react if Wal-Mart and their corporate peers were the providers of the kind of hard-goods stores we say we need, without resorting to malls or standalone megastores? Would political correctness again triumph over our economic and ecological well-being?

    Let’s call the concept “urban infill retail” — the parallel to the urban residential infill pattern that’s largely driving our recent and pending city and neighborhood planning decisions. Residential projects have been required to provide “housing over shops;” but with the sole exception of the new Trader Joe’s project the small retail spaces that result fall short of our “medium box” needs.

    We need medium-scale retail to drive some of the mixed-use projects, not always the other way around. That’s why Safeway’s reluctance to provide housing above a remodeled north Shattuck store stands as such a prominent example of the wrong (suburban rather than inner-urban) approach.

    So before Wal-Mart does it for us, we might be looking for where such medium-box infill sites could be located. Two examples: multiple blocks of Shattuck south of the official downtown district, and to be specific the underused 100,000 sf property at the northwest corner of Gilman and San Pablo.

    Rather than just waiting for a future economic recovery to boost our traditional “lifestyle” local shopping, isn’t it time to be proactive about creating the “daily stuff” retail we so badly need?

  • EBGuy

    The city has focused on creating boutique shopping districts like the Elmwood and Solano Avenue
    Created, or artifacts from another time? I can’t remember that last time I drove to one of these districts. Oops, I said drive.
    Anyone with an inside scoop on how the Berkeley TJ’s is performing?

  • Alan Tobey

    “Anyone with an inside scoop on how the Berkeley TJ’s is performing?”

    Though the store seems at all hours to be as busy as its nearby peers in Emeryville and El Cerrito, the even more interesting question is how much business TJ’s is taking from the two Andronico’s stores a few blocks to either side. Both of these are reported to have become deeply unprofitable even without their new competitor.

    I have a feeling that “whither Andronico’s?” will become one of the big Berkeley retail questions of 2011. Perhaps a catalyst of interesting changes . . . .

  • Andrew

    If Andronicos closes (they are convenient to have around only because they are better than Safeway) then I’d vote for a Berkeley Bowl North in the Adronicos spot on Solano (with underground parking).

  • Bryan

    I say good riddance to Andronicos if they go under. Way, way, WAY over-priced for just about everything in that store. I’m actually surprised they’ve lasted as long as they have.

  • EBGuy

    Though the store seems at all hours to be as busy as its nearby peers
    I admit it; I don’t get out much. Can you qualify the statement. Just curious, does the parking lot now fill up? Are our (privatized, one side) neighborhood streets safe from roaming hoards of circling TJs shoppers.

  • deirdre

    re Alan Tobey’s point:

    “Rather than just waiting for a future economic recovery to boost our traditional “lifestyle” local shopping, isn’t it time to be proactive about creating the “daily stuff” retail we so badly need?”

    I support your point. Is there anything short of a mini-Walmart that could fit the niche?

    Also, what kind of “daily stuff” retail is already working around Berkeley, and how can we better support it? We patronize Games of Berkeley, Pegasus & Pendragon, craft & art supply places, & CVS pharmacy (post-Elephant Pharm). Not enough of this really fits into the “daily stuff” retail, sadly.

  • http://www.preservenet.com Charles Siegel

    Staples on Shattuck south of downtown seems to be a good example of the sort of “medium box” that we need, and I find it very convenient when I need office supplies.

    We also need a hardware store in downtown Berkeley, and we would do well to convince the developer of the Ace Hardware site in downtown Berkeley to provide a retail space with affordable rent for Ace to locate in. I would take that over most other mitigations that people might demand from the developer. I am all for the project, which would make my neighborhood much more interesting, but I also want to keep the hardware store, which makes my neighborhood more convenient. For info about the project, see http://berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2010-10-05/article/36386?headline=Proposed-Acheson-Commons-Development-Would-Add-200-Units-to-Downtown-Berkeley

  • Lauren

    Try no downtown parking for a cause! we wanted to go to yogurt land the other night (not even a weekend) and we drove around for one half hour looking for a parking place noticing all the bulb outs incorporating
    trees eliminating parking spaces. we will never go downtown again to get ice cream SIMPLE AS THAT! DONE! our city planners have done a
    disservice to us. they are pathetic.

  • TN

    Alan Tobey is right. We need a few places in town to buy “every day” stuff.

    For instance, where in Berkeley can one buy men’s BVDs? Perhaps Walgreen’s on Shattuck? Where can we buy plain, non-fancy linens and towels? There’s a boutique on 4th Street that sells real Turkish towels but that’s way beyond my budget. How about a simple dress shirt for those occasional appointments where a shirt and tie are necessary?

    Berkeley is, oddly, shopping poor.

    None of this stuff by itself would lead to a lot of sales tax revenues for the city compared to purchases of electronic entertainment appliances or cars. But we all have to buy this stuff all the time. And unlike most groceries, they are taxable items.

  • Sotto Voce

    Andronico’s has priced itself right out of business. Why pay 3.49 a lb. for apples when I can get them at Monterey Market for .49 cents a lb.?

    As for the rents issue; a recent survey of rent per sq. ft. has North Berkeley rents commanding rates equal to that of Maiden Lane on Union Sq. in SF. Who can afford that? And why should some avenues be “destination locations”? Nice if people visit, but what about Berkeleyans? Must we be forced to drive to big box stores in Emeryville or further, because landlords raise rents so high that only premier restaurants like Rivoli, Cesar, et al, can afford the locations? And why change zoning to increase restaurants at the sake of everyday services and supplies that everyone needs? We already have a Gourmet Ghetto. Do we need several?

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    TN: make and export some of that stuff in Berekely — don’t just worry about selling it here.

    Andronico’s slaggers on the price point: Unless you see their books and are sure they’re really losing, it’s entirely possible that the high prices which drive away the riff-raff are the selling point for those what shop there by design. I haven’t really shopped there much for over a decade but that was a decent part of their game around, roughly 15 years ago. I wasn’t flush and they did have stuff around the edges that was affordable but, mostly, the premium prices were part of the brand.

    BB is not so different in a few departments and parts of departments.

  • TN

    TL:

    There is no VAT (Value added tax). Sales taxes are only collected at the point of final sale to the consumers of the item being sold.

    So, for instance we still have a few sewing factories in town. Almost all their sales go to wholesalers or retailers out of town. Berkeley gets no sales tax revenue from these factories unless the final sale is in Berkeley. And from what I can tell, none of factory workers live in Berkeley because it is too expensive to live here.

  • Berkeleyite

    For generations, not only was downtown Berkeley a vibrant shopping district, but so was Telegraph, Elmwood and Solano. (We also had a vibrant, tax-paying, job-generating, manufacturing district, but that’s another topic). The regime who took over in the seventies, and is still in power, did everything possible to push business out of Berkeley. While most shops were family owned business, chains like Penny’s and Montgomery Ward had stores on Shattuck, and no one ever had to leave the city limits to buy anything from automobiles to electronics to jewelery. The answer then was quite simple: abundant free parking, enforcement of vagrancy laws and letting the free-market dictate what people can sell. This would work again if we ever wanted to return Berkeley to its time of greatness.

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    TN:

    Aye…. thank you! I didn’t get that (the VAT detail). Interesting.

    Berkeley gets no sales tax revenue from these factories unless the final sale is in Berkeley. And from what I can tell, none of factory workers live in Berkeley because it is too expensive to live here.

    Two of our more pressing problems, imo.

  • Porcelina Grout

    I miss Hinks.

  • insidesource

    For all those trashing Andronico’s have you considered:

    1. They are a union shop paying good wages to long-term employees.
    2. They don’t have the benefit of a huge corporation’s economy of scale as far as pricing is concerned.
    3. They are relatively “local”.

  • Alan Tobey

    “Andronico’s slaggers on the price point: Unless you see their books and are sure they’re really losing, it’s entirely possible that the high prices which drive away the riff-raff are the selling point for those what shop there by design.”

    In other words, as a friend put it, Andronico’s is the grocery store for people with more money than brains. Not a marketing slogan for the ages.

    Not for nothing is the Solano store (according to “anonymous sources,” so grain of salt) the only one in Berkeley showing a profit. With a VERY different demographic than the Safeway down the street.

    And that’s not a complaint, there’s nothing too sinful about a “luxury” food store for those who choose to shop there. You could ding Whole Foods with a similar rap while acknowledging its uber-green cred.

    On the living-in-Berkeley theme, here are numbers from the Bay Area Council’s 2005 housing study: There were then 78,000 jobs in Berkeley – roughly one for every adult citizen. But two-thirds of Berkeley jobs are held by nonresidents, while 56% of working Berkeleyans commute out of town for their jobs. That’s a nonsensical pattern at the root of many of our social and economic challenges. Giving one newly-open Berkeley job to someone who lives here instead of to a nonresident potentially eliminates TWO cross-border commutes (and perhaps 7000 miles a year of single-driver car commuting, still the dominant mode).

  • http://www.preservenet.com Charles Siegel

    “The regime who took over in the seventies, and is still in power, did everything possible to push business out of Berkeley. While most shops were family owned business, chains like Penny’s and Montgomery Ward had stores on Shattuck, and no one ever had to leave the city limits to buy anything from automobiles to electronics to jewelery. The answer then was quite simple: abundant free parking, enforcement of vagrancy laws and letting the free-market dictate what people can sell. This would work again if we ever wanted to return Berkeley to its time of greatness.”

    The real reason, of course, is that department stores now want to locate near freeway exits (with the exception of a few downtown shopping districts that are regional draws, such as Union Square). That is why the JC Penny’s downtown has been replaced by a Target Store next to the freeway. And that is why old Main Streets in cities throughout the US have been replaced by Walmarts and other auto-oriented stores near the freeway exits at the edge of town – even though those cities do not have the sinister faction that has “destroyed Berkeley’s greatness.”

    The underlying cause of this shift in retail location was the federal government’s decision to build freeways through cities and to ignore public transportation after World War II.

  • http://lauriston.com Robert Lauriston

    Isn’t the photo above of the “Wright’s Garage” project? That garage closed at least three years ago. Given how quickly the new retail spaces in the former hardware store around the corner were rented, I’m not sure the Wright’s Garage vacancies can fairly be blamed on the economy.

  • Thomas Lord

    The underlying cause of this shift in retail location was the federal government’s decision to build freeways through cities and to ignore public transportation after World War II.

    Surely not. In plain english, so much retail moved off main street and concentrated in big boxes because:

    a) We got better at making larges batches of “stuff” in factories. As the industrial age advanced, especially after the kick in the pants of WWII, it became increasingly advantageous to manufacture 1,000 things instead of 10 just because the machines improved. That created an advantage for retailers who could push larger quantities of merchandise.

    b) We got better at moving around large quantities of stuff. It happened that highways helped here but, actually, a similar scale rail network would have helped even more. Because we got good at moving around large quantities (e.g., containerized shipping) – that created pressure for retailers that could receive and sell large quantities. Such retailers don’t fit in a downtown space.

    c) We got better at moving cash around the world and moving bulk quantities of stuff across oceans. Initially, mainly cheap fuel and other raw materials and, later, cheap finished goods based on low cost labor. This gave big-scale retailers even more of a price advantage.

    d) We got (in recent decades) much better at managing huge supply and delivery networks and just-in-time production. Even more advantage to the big-scale retailers.

    e) Big-scale retailers that are less conveniently accessible than a stroll down the street, yet still accessible, therefore beat the pants off of main st. on price. It doesn’t much matter that highways happened to be the main mode of accessibility. Buses or trains would have done fine or better. What mattered was cheap land, accessibility by huge numbers of people, and accessibility for huge deliveries from wholesalers.

    f) In recent decades, as a result of wages that are flat in real terms or outright falling (as a result of the mobility of money capital and large inventories — labor competition): one stop shopping that doesn’t take all damn day had a secondary value, other than the low prices.

    To blame all of the above on the plan to build highways is really a stretch. Trains would have done just fine at causing the same problems.

  • Andrew

    Regardless of the debate on this post, we at least know two things:

    * The economy has been down and thus sales (discretionary spending) are down across the board.

    * Shopping habits and logistics have changed with a huge impact coming from the Internet.

    All of this leads to reduced local sales over the past few years. No silver bullet will change that. The economy is slowly recovering, but the effect of the Internet is here to stay.

    One more thing – Berkeley is part of a larger community. I may go to the Ace Hardware in El Cerrito, but someone from El Cerrito can just as easily come to Berkeley and go to Monterey Market. We are not a silo.

  • Bryan

    “For all those trashing Andronico’s have you considered:

    1. They are a union shop paying good wages to long-term employees.”

    When I first moved to Berkeley two years ago and was looking for a job to help me get on my feet, I actually applied to Andronico’s and went through the first group interview stage, and all they were willing to offer me (a new college graduate) was minimum wage. Wasn’t Berkeley Bowl union up until just recently also? Yet they have much cheaper prices on most everything.

    “2. They don’t have the benefit of a huge corporation’s economy of scale as far as pricing is concerned.”

    Obviously not, but neither does Berkeley Bowl and in fact BB has far fewer locations (only two compared to however many Andronico’s).

    “3. They are relatively ‘local’.”

    Yes and so is Berkeley Bowl.

    If Andronico’s mission is to cater to rich snobs who don’t want to have to rub elbows with us “commoners” then fine, I’d rather not have to interact with that crowd either, anyways.

  • Andrew

    Berkeley should promote Berkeley Bowl as Berkeley’s premier grocery chain. I drive there even though it’s further because it’s far, far better than Andronicos, low prices or not. I like Andronicos only because it’s so close but other than that it does not offer much of a value proposition. It is, IMO, an outdated institution.

    That said, the staff that works at the Solano Andronicos is always very friendly.

    Safeway scares me. But then again, living in Berkeley you become averse to such things as the Safeways of the world.

    Berkeley Bowl is just right.

  • Amy

    I would love to have a department store downtown. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but a gal can dream. I travel to Target for men and women’s underwear, socks, and kids’ clothes. I’d rather spend my money within Berkeley. Berkeley has great resale shops for kids, and posh high-end kid shops, but nothing in between. Similarly, I could get fancy french lingerie or Walgreens $2 panties, but nothing in between in terms of quality and price. For better and for worse, it’s the chain stores that have cornered that middle-class market. As long as Berkeley remains purist in terms of eschewing corporate chain stores, it will keep pushing people to neighboring towns for (some) staple goods. On the one hand, I respect how that preserves the city’s flavor (I’m reminded of Michael Chabon’s moving essay on Berkeley). On the other hand, I see how that drives consumer dollars out of town. Surely there’s a sweet spot between the extremes?

  • tizzielish

    I am surprised by these comments. Everyone seems to be thinking about Berkeley’s retail environment in a narrow, tight bubble.

    The retail environment of the whole country has changed because of concentration of wealth. Corporations, which have all the rights of personhood with none of the vulnerabilities of actually being human, exist to strip wealth. Corporations have used some of their money to buy politicians (like Tom Bates) to make sure the economic system creates rules that favor . . . corporations. We call this ‘let the free market decide’, even though there is no free market. Our economic system is a stacked deck, stacked in favor of those who already have, stacked to strip wealth from everyone else. Favoring corporate profits over human need is a form of cannibalism. We protect the corporate ‘right’ to make money over human being rights such as a need for food, water, shelter, air.

    Businesses have moved near the freeway for efficiency.With one big store, it is cheaper to sell lots of cheap shit inside the store. With the freeway, you get more customers swinging into your stores. These are the forces that took stores out of Berkeley. It’s all about the conservative agenda, bought and paid for by already-billionaires.

    Our local politicians have done a lot of stupid things but the worldwide corporatization of economic life is not really the local chuckleheads fault.

  • S. Marty Pantz

    Progressives just love their groundless myths. Sotto Voce states that owners of vacant stores keep them vacant and somehow make money on refinancing based inflated prospective rents. This is both impossible and stupid. Just try to refinance a vacant property at all, let alone at an imaginary value. And once that is done (were it possible), who pays the mortgage with no tenant? Not understanding the situation never seems to stop people from shooting off their mouths (or fingers in the case of web comments.)

  • Koalababy

    Well, I feel badly for Lauren. But there is parking in downtown, it just isn’t on the street. There is parking widely available in the parking structures, or on uc campus parking lots at night, for a small fee. If you’re going to Yogurt-land you can park under the Brower center, or at Bancroft and Fulton. I recently visited los angeles and was struck by how ugly the old suburbs are with the mini malls, aging shops stranded behind parking strips, glad we don’t have that. We just need to be Berkeley-smart and know where to park if we want to drive to our downtown…

  • Nasi

    I just wanted to say in defense of Andronico’s that all kinds of people live in Berkeley and if the rich would prefer Andronico’s to Berkeley Bowl or Safeway, so be it. Who says that Berkeley is a middle class town or is for the poor and pou pou the rich! after all they pay more taxes and we need them. As for me I love the new Tj and BB and of course if I have too Andronico’s is always there!

  • Sotto Voce

    Have you ever noticed how many, many of the vacant retail and commercial locations are owned by the same five, or less people?

  • http://lauriston.com Robert Lauriston

    Santa Monica is similar to Berkeley in many ways and has a vibrant downtown shopping district. I think the main difference here is that instead of supporting and promoting retail uses the city has been putting all of its money and effort into turning downtown into a student ghetto.

    “… many of the vacant retail and commercial locations are owned by the same five, or less people?”

    A “for lease” sign from Gordon or one of the other commercial real estate agencies don’t mean they own the building.

  • Sotto Voce

    Look it up. You’d be surprised.

  • http://lauriston.com Robert Lauriston

    Santa Monica is similar to Berkeley in many ways and has a vibrant downtown shopping district. I think the primary difference is that instead of supporting and promoting retail uses downtown, Berkeley has promoted residential development, often at the expense of retail.

    Theoretically those developments are mixed-use, but many of the commercial spaces are too small or have ceilings too low for many retail uses. I think maybe the Zoning Adjustments Board has gotten smarter about this stuff: the New Californian (Trader Joe’s) and 2130 Center (Ippuku etc.) have much better commercial spaces than earlier projects such as the Fine Arts, Bachenheimer, Artech, or Gaia.

    “… many of the vacant retail and commercial locations are owned by the same five, or less people?”

    A “for lease” sign from Gordon or one of the other commercial real estate agencies doesn’t mean the agency owns the building.

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  • Grizzly Geezer

    I moved my business out of Berkeley 5 years ago when our landlord was convinced by a Realtor that he could get a lot more money for our space. After asking around I found that there seemed to be a concerted effort by certain parties to ensure $3 per square foot was the “going rate” for storefronts in the area.
    Well 5 years later and our old space sits vacant …in fact it’s been empty for nearly 4 of the 5 years since we moved.
    Berkeley as a Monoply board is how I see it.