An Amazon store is moving into the space on Fourth Street where Crate & Barrel used to be.
At least three sources who asked not to be identified, including one in city government, told Berkeleyside that the online behemoth will be opening a retail store at 1785 Fourth St. Construction to divide the 34,755-square-foot space into two stores — one with 23,580 square feet and the other with 11,175 square feet — has already begun.
The arrival of an Amazon store just a few hundred feet away from an Apple store reflects the changing nature of Fourth Street. Long known for its independent boutiques — like The Gardener, Pavé and the Lighting Studio — the number of chain stores in the expanding shopping area has increased significantly. The small stores have been joined over the years by Lululemon, Warby Parker, Madewell, Soul Cycle, Design Within Reach, Papyrus, Sur La Table, CB2 and more.
The area has one of the lowest vacancy rates in Berkeley and also generates the most retail sales tax for the city; in 2016 the city collected $4 million in taxes from West Berkeley. (That also included taxes from Weatherford BMW, located a short distance away.)
The arrival of an Amazon store is ironic in one sense, because the company created the culture of quick, discounted purchasing, which has, in turn, decimated many small retail businesses.
“It’s just awful,” said George Kiskaddon, the owner of Builders Booksource, which has been on Fourth Street since 1982. “Amazon — they are the evil empire. They do nothing for the community. They do nothing for the tax base. They have destroyed so many businesses, and the quality of life and everything else.”
Eric Muhlebach of Bond Retail and his family own the building at 1785 Fourth St., along with many other buildings on the east side of the block between Virginia and Delaware, in a company called 4th Street Holdings, LLC. The family owns four large parcels on the west side of the street, including the building at 1730 Fourth St. that is home to CB2 in a company called Demo 4th Street Berkeley LLC.
Muhlebach would not confirm or deny that Amazon was moving into one of his buildings and said its arrival was “speculation.” He said it would be up to the individual retail operators to make any announcement. An Amazon spokesperson said in March that the company had no information to share about a Berkeley location.
Muhlebach also said he would not comment on whether he had declined to renew Crate & Barrel’s lease so Amazon could move in. The outlet store had been in that location for 30 years, and a C&B spokeswoman told Berkeleyside in March that the “landlord will not be renewing the lease.”
Amazon has expanded in recent years beyond the online world to get into brick-and-mortar retailing. The company has opened 15 bookstores in several cities, including Walnut Creek and San Jose, in the last few years. It has pop-ups in dozens of malls around the country, selling Kindles and other electronics.
In January, it opened Amazon Go in the company’s hometown of Seattle — a convenience store that uses “Just Walk Out Technology.” Customers can scan their phones when they enter, take whatever they want from the store, and get charged automatically as they exit. They don’t have to stand in line at a cash register.
Recode reported that Amazon plans to open six more Amazon Go stores this year, although the company did not confirm that report.
In another retail move, Amazon also recently purchased Whole Foods, and has expanded its Amazon Fresh Grocery delivery service to Amazon Prime customers.
This will not be the first Amazon store in Berkeley. The company opened a package drop-off and pick-up facility in the Martin Luther King, Jr. student center at UC Berkeley in April 2016. It also operates a 21,000-square foot distribution center in the old Marchant Building on San Pablo Avenue.
Rumors that Amazon was moving to Fourth Street have been swirling around the neighborhood in recent days. Nearby businesses have mixed emotions about the idea, said Stefan Gutermuth, who works at The Gardener, one of the most established stores on the block. Merchants are concerned about how Amazon will impact their businesses. Will Amazon sell books? Will it sell toys? Will it sell food?
“They may be stocking inventory people may be carrying here,” he said.
The upside is that an Amazon store might bring more foot traffic to the street, he added.
“Everyone’s reaction is wait and see,” he said. “If it increases traffic on Fourth Street, that would be a good thing.”
The very busy Apple store has not particularly impacted other businesses, he said. Apple customers seem to go to the store to buy something specific. They don’t necessarily shop around the shopping district afterward.
Kiskaddon said Builders Booksource can probably weather the opening of an Amazon bookstore, if that is what happens. When you know what you want, say a book by John Grisham or a particular pair of size 6 shoes, Amazon is good because you can go online and buy those objects, with a discount, in just a few clicks, he said. But if you don’t know what you want, and you come into a store like his, you can browse and be pleasantly surprised by what you find. That kind of serendipity is not available online, he said.
Some people are looking forward to an Amazon store.
“I would rather have Amazon than another cosmetic store,” said Carl Bass, who works south of the shopping district on Fourth Street, referring to the concentration of beauty-related stores on the street, which includes Perricone MD, Benefit, M-A-C, Aveda, Bare Minerals, Kiehl’s, and Benefit SF.
Mary Corbin contributed reporting to this story.