Shakespeare & Co., a used bookstore that has been operating on Telegraph Avenue since 1964, closed its doors for good this week.
The owner, Jon Wobber, said the store was not earning enough income for the time he was putting in. He made the decision to shutter yesterday, on June 2, and served his last customer before locking the door for the last time around 8 p.m.
The building that houses Shakespeare & Co., at 2499 Telegraph Ave., on the corner of Dwight Way, was bought last year by Telegraph Partners, LLC, which plans to extensively remodel the building. Telegraph Partners managing member Ito Ripsteen said the company was open to the bookstore remaining, said Wobber. But the store would have had to close for three months, so Wobber thought the time was right to close the business.
Until yesterday, Shakespeare & Co. was Berkeley’s oldest bookstore still in operation. Moe’s Books, across the street on Telegraph Avenue, originated as The Paperback Book Shop on Shattuck Avenue just north of University in 1959, but didn’t call itself Moe’s until it moved to Telegraph Avenue in 1965.
Wobber said Tuesday he has been trying to sell the store since August 2014, but there were no takers.
Wobber is selling much of the bookstore’s inventory to Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. He is keeping most of the rare books and some others for the bookstore he plans to open in his hometown of Cotati in Sonoma. He will also sell books online.
Wobber bought Shakespeare & Co. in 2004 after working there for 15 years. He was the store’s third owner. The original owner was Bill Cartwright.
The store has no direct connection to the famous Paris store of the same name. Wobber said he believes the Berkeley store was named in homage to the original Shakespeare & Company, founded by Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1919. Several other stores across the world have also adopted the name.
The closure comes in the midst of a changing landscape for independent bookstores. After years of dwindling sales and gloomy news, some independent bookstores in Berkeley – as well as around the Bay Area and across the nation – are bouncing back from the recession and the onslaught on online booksellers like Amazon. During each of the past three years, indies have seen a collective growth in sales. The American Booksellers Association has reported an increase in the number of independent bookstores nationwide, with 59 new ABA members in 2014.
However making a bookstore business thrive is still hard work. Last year Gina Davidson closed Bookish, the stylish little bookstore she ran on Euclid Avenue in Berkeley, just one year after opening it. Davidson said she planned to focus on a mobile, pop-up bookstore model instead.
Wobber is looking forward to no longer having a 50-mile commute from home to work, but he’s disappointed to be saying goodbye to Berkeley.
“I’m going to miss the people of Berkeley — I’ve had lots of nice transactions and made lots of acquaintances and friends here,” he said. “I’ll be sorry to miss all the people.”
There are some aspects of running a business on Telegraph Avenue he won’t miss, however. “I won’t miss the sirens blasting by every day,” he said, “or the people standing on the corner smoking cigarettes.” He added that, though the local buses are supposed to be ‘clean energy,’ the bus fumes that seeped into the store smelled bad too.
One of Shakespeare & Co.’s last customers, Julie Kleinerman, was in the store at around 7:15 p.m. Tuesday. A Berkeley resident who will be attending UCLA next semester, Kleinerman asked Wobber for book recommendations for a camping trip she’s taking this summer.
[Hat-tip: Ted Friedman.]
Correction: This story originally reported that Ito Ripsteen worked for Gordon Commercial Real Estate Services although he left that company in 2013. We apologize for the error.
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