Telegraph restaurants, shops face uncertain future

The Village is a smorgasbord of small businesses and restaurants, offering a quiet refuge from Telegraph Ave. Photo: Emily Dugdale
The Village, at 2556 Telegraph Ave., a smorgasbord of small businesses and restaurants, is under threat from a proposed new development. Photo: Emily Dugdale

Tenants at Telegraph Avenue’s The Village may be facing the end of their time at the quaint shopping mall, as a proposed 7-story mixed-use building, which would involve demolishing the complex, awaits approval by the city of Berkeley.

The Village, constructed in 1946 and located at 2556 Telegraph Ave. (at Blake Street), is home to a small, diverse collection of restaurants, offering Japanese, Korean, Swiss and Ethiopian food, among others, each with its own loyal customer-base. Also on site is a longstanding hair salon, and, until recently, a music shop. The Village customers include local residents, business owners, families, and UC Berkeley students, said merchants at the mall.

Noriko Taniguchi, co-owner with her husband of the popular Japanese restaurant Norikonoko located at the entrance to The Village, expressed her frustration and dismay about the pending development.”They didn’t tell us anything,” she told Berkeleyside last week. “We’ll all come together to fight this new building.”

At right: a rendering of a 7-story building proposed on Telegraph to take the place of The Village. Image: Pyatok Architects
At right: a rendering of the 7-story building proposed on Telegraph to take the place of The Village. Image: Pyatok Architects

If approved, the developer of the project, Telegraph/Blake LLC, plans to market the new units to students, couples, and young professionals, according to project documents. The plan calls for 11% of the units to be affordable — available to those who make 50% of the area’s median income, which is $32,550, or $37,200 for a couple.


While a “retail storefront” is proposed for the Telegraph side of the project, retail rents for the new development have not yet been made available.

Construction on the new building, which site plans show will not include parking but will have a bike storage room, will take at least 1-1.5 years according to Telegraph/Blake LLC’s Cody Fornari. The city’s zoning and design reviews have not yet been scheduled.

See the project plan set, applicant statement and other documents.

Tenants at The Village are particularly upset with the new rent set-up that only gives businesses a 30-day eviction notice. Noriko Taniguchi, who met her husband and business partner, Takumi Taniguchi in Tokyo and opened Norikonoko in 1994, said that her restaurant previously ran on a standard “five-five” lease plan under its previous owner, meaning that the restaurant signed a five-year lease with a five-year option to extend.

The Village was bought by Telegraph/Blake LLC about a year ago, the Taniguchis said, and the new owner implemented a different rent procedure for shop owners. Tanigushi and her husband signed a one-year lease that will go to month-to-month when the lease is up, and includes the 30-day eviction notice policy. “This is not an apartment,” Taniguchi said. “You can’t just do month-to-month for a commercial business.”

“If he’s a real businessman, then he’ll give us what we all need for our own businesses,” she said.

Noriko Taniguchi cooking at xx in 2012. She founded the restaurant with her husband in 1994. Photo Anna Mindess
Noriko Taniguchi cooking at Norikonoko in 2012. She opened the restaurant with her husband more than 20 years ago. Photo Anna Mindess

Responding to concerns about the new project voiced by local residents earlier this year, Fornari said “many of the tenants have stated they might close as opposed to relocate,” and said Telegraph/Blake LLC had not discussed money for relocation.

Many of the stores in the complex have operated in The Village for decades. Norikonoko has been in the the Village for more than 20 years, as has Ethiopian restaurant Finfiné.

The Taniguchis, like other mall tenants, are waiting to see if the development proposal will be approved by the city before making any firm plans for the future. “The financial impact [of the new development] will be huge,” Takumi Taniguchi, said.

The couple said each business in The Village has cultivated its own loyal clientele, and fostered friendships that last well beyond business hours.

“We all have our own customers,” said Noriko. “[The development] has hit all of us hard, because now we have to figure out our goals for the future.”

Fellow restaurant-owner Lalel Hevavi of Fondue Fred said that the month-to-month rent set-up is costing her business so much that she has not replaced a broken ice-machine because she doesn’t know if she will be there next month. Her restaurant currently only takes reservations within the current month, and has limited the selling of gift-cards. “How can we do month-to-month?” she said. “I’m not like a Starbucks — we don’t have locations everywhere.”

telegraphthevillage#1
The “proposed development” sign on The Village premises. Photo: Emily Dugdale

Fondue Fred has operated in The Village since 1958, and counts Governor Jerry Brown as a former patron, according to Hevavi. “This is an historic place,” she said. “And we trusted the city of Berkeley not to put us out on the street because someone wants to be a millionaire.

“We are all part of that building,” Hevavi continued. “That was our retirement. That was our passion. We’ve all put in so many years there.”

However, James Capella, owner of the now-shuttered Blue Notes Music store on the second floor of The Village, said that the move to demolish the space “makes sense” because of the run-down state of the old building. “I’ve known this was going to happen for years,” he said. The mall is in “horrible condition,” he said, with evident plumbing and retrofit issues. “It’s a prime location that simply hasn’t been properly utilized.”

Capella said the landlord was “frank” with him about the state of The Village, and he received a letter, along with the rest of the tenants, announcing the new proposed development. Capella was already in the process of shutting down his store when he was informed of the plans.

Capella said he had never met the building owner, and that the tenants had “no contact” with him.

The news has prompted many of the mall’s merchants to consider how they might continue to make a livelihood in the neighborhood. Janney Phang, owner of the Berkeley Hair Studio, located directly across from Norikonoko, said all the merchants in the area will have to “meet up and talk about” the looming development proposal.

The Village shopping mall, constructed in 1946, is located right on bustling Telegraph Ave. Photo: Emily Dugdale
The Village shopping mall, built in 1946, is located on bustling Telegraph Avenue, at Blake Street. Photo: Emily Dugdale

In business at the mall since 2001, Phang said there is always a steady stream of customers, tourists, and general passers-by that frequent The Village. “A lot of people come here and like the variety of options,” she said. She noted that people often come and take pictures of the quirky architecture of the building’s interior.

Phang hopes that she and her fellow mall business owners will be able to keep their location. However, she expressed concern that “the city will be more powerful.”

Mixed reactions to new development from locals, customers

While tenants of The Village await further action on the pending development proposal, local residents and patrons of the shopping mall had different reactions when talking to Berkeleyside, as well as in online forums.

Richard, an Oakland native who was getting his hair cut by Phang at the Berkeley Hair Salon last week, said he had been going there for 10 years.

“It sucks, because we don’t know what’s going to happen with Janney — whether she’ll relocate or find a different job,” he said while waiting outside the salon. At the same time, he acknowledged the desperate need for housing in the area. “I think that it’s a necessity, because housing is so important right now. The only way to alleviate the crunch we’re feeling is more housing.”

Richard added that the scale  of the 7-story proposed development did not appear to be  “in character” with the surrounding small businesses and residential homes.

Another new 70-unit building by developer Patrick Kennedy has been proposed for 2539 Telegraph, across the street from The Village. That project, which is still working its way through the approval process, would be six stories’ high and include an eight-car garage.

Kennedy project Telegraph
A new building is also proposed for 2539 Telegraph Ave., across the street from The Village. Rendering: Lowney Architecture

But ultimately, for Richard, “it’s a simple supply and demand issue,” he said. “More is better.”

“This makes me terribly sad,” said “second_bucket,” commenting on the UC Berkeley Reddit page. He/she wrote that the owner of Koryo, a veteran Korean barbecue restaurant in the Village, would often give them presents of fruit when they visited the restaurant.

But another local resident did see the benefits of additional homes in the area. “As a student currently living in the neighborhood a few blocks south of there, I know that we aren’t exactly popular with the long-time residents,” a Reddit user with the username “timnuoa” said on the same UC Berkeley page. “Some more big housing projects on Telegraph seems like it would be good for all involved. God knows Berkeley needs more housing units.”

Related:
ZAB approves 2539 Telegraph, postpones use permit (06.25.15) 
7-story building, no parking, proposed at The Village (05.15.15)
Decades-old mural could derail Berkeley apartment project (11.25.14)
5-story building approved, again, on University Avenue (07.24.14)
Neighbors question parking, height of student-oriented housing planned on Telegraph (07.16.14)
In Berkeley, slide the door for homey Japanese food (11.27.12)

Emily Dugdale, a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, MA, was a summer 2015 intern at Berkeleyside.

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