The 27-year-old bookstore has been described as a “Berkeley institution” by celebrated local poet Robert Hass.
With its all-volunteer staff, and calendar of panel discussions and programs in venues across Berkeley, the radical store sets itself apart from other independent bookstores in the Bay Area by its emphasis on social change.
Revolution Books is currently located in the city-owned Telegraph Channing mall, a complex of stores under a parking garage on Durant and Telegraph avenues. The store will be relocating to another part of the complex, one that is a stone’s throw away away from Telegraph Avenue and closer to the daily lives of UC Berkeley students than their current location.
“Times are changing, and Revolution Books is needed more than ever,” said Larry Everest, local author and long-time volunteer at the bookstore. “We all know what kind of role the UC Berkeley campus has played in world history, and we want to be closer to that.”
In 2014, the store was part of a group of longtime merchants who were frustrated with the amount of rent they were paying compared to that paid by newer merchants. They accused the city of pricing out local small businesses. The city has taken a number of steps since then to address the merchants’ concerns. According to store spokesperson and long-time volunteer, Reiko Redmonde, who grew up in Berkeley and attended UC Berkeley in 1974, the store’s new location just a hallway over at 2444 Durant Ave. will be priced about the same as their old spot.
The heart of Revolution Books is the re-envisioned communism developed by Bob Avakian, said Everest. The store has an entire section devoted to the works and theories of Avakian, who grew up in Berkeley championing a new synthesis of old and new communism, while placing particular importance on the need for internationalism in revolutionary thought.
The store has collected a number of author testimonies as a part of its fundraising campaign. It draws praise for being a “feminist friendly bookstore,” and “a bridge between middle class balance and the flight into much faster and deeper social change.”
“For anyone who is really concerned about the state of the world, and wants to explore some of the deepest challenges facing humanity, these kinds of questions are what we really dig into at Revolution Books,” Everest said.
The store hopes to raise $20,000 to help it move into a new space just a few doors down on Durant. Donations will fund the installation of a new floor, new electrical wiring and lighting, new paint, and a new point-of-sale system.
The fundraiser has raised nearly $8,000 so far. “We think we’ll get the money,” said Redmonde. “Our store has been around for a long time, but we don’t want people to take it for granted,” Everest added. “We’re telling people that you’re the one that makes the difference.”
The store also plans to expand its offerings with the move, particularly its stock on the most current social issues. Sections such as the world history of revolution and communism, women and gender studies, police brutality, the history of black rights movements and black history are some of the many topics which will be revitalized.
“We’re really looking forward to that,” said Redmonde. “Berkeley was once famous for its bookstores. So our bookstore seeks to keep being on the cutting edge of both revolutionary and radical history, fiction and science, while also being a place where people can come together to discuss and engage over the work.”
The new space has high ceilings, natural light, and heightened acoustics and will be a better venue for everything from author panel discussions to band performances. “We want to have something that fits all kinds of performances, including our political discussions and panels that we regularly host,” Redmonde said.
The move, Redmonde and Everest agreed, is also one of plain survival.
Revolution Book’s relocation and fundraiser announcement comes on the heels of several local independent bookstore closures in the past few years. Earlier this month, Shakespeare & Co. shut its doors after 51 years in business. And in 2014, Gina Davidson closed Bookish on Euclid Avenue just one year after opening it.
But well-placed bookstores can thrive in Berkeley. Books, Inc. shut down its store on Fourth Street and moved to a bigger location on Shattuck Avenue this month, which happens to be the former location of fellow independent bookstore Black Oak Books, now on San Pablo Avenue.
Revolution Books’ upcoming move “is an effort to make sure our store survives,” Everest said. “It’s an effort to renovate and revitalize, and expand our stock of books so we can stay relevant.”
“Like all other non-corporate bookstores, this is very difficult — we fight each month to keep open, and we think the move is going to help,” he said.
Actor and author Peter Coyote, speaking at the Bay Area Book Festival earlier this month, urged people to support Revolution and the “endangered species” of the independent bookstore.”If you want independent thought, independent books, independent ideas to exist, you have to step up. You have to help,” he said.
Revolution aims to move into its new space by Aug. 1., and intends to stick around for the long-haul. “We talk to a lot of people who know about us, and who can’t imagine a Berkeley without our store,” Everest said.
Revolution Books will welcome internationally acclaimed Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat on Sunday, July 5 at 6:30 p.m., one of the last high-profile speakers to present at Revolution’s current space.
Books Inc. opens in North Berkeley after move (06.08.15)
Shakespeare & Co. closes after 51 years in Berkeley (06.03.15)
New independent bookstore Bookish opens in Berkeley (06.26.14)
Berkeley merchants locked in dispute with city (01.07.14)
Emily Dugdale, a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, MA, is a summer intern at Berkeleyside.
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