The loss of the ComputerWare store at Bonita and University avenues – the Bay Area chain went belly up at the beginning of the week – may be one sign that the high-tech downturn is making its way to the East Bay.
Bill Lambert, who heads Berkeley’s economic development efforts, predicts that because of the city’s diversified economic base, Berkeley won’t get badly damaged in the downswing.
“It won’t have a dramatic impact,” he said in an interview Thursday.
But in the short run, the economy’s decline has “already had somewhat of an effect,” Lambert said.
One year ago, there was no vacant office space. Now there’s an 11 percent vacancy rate in West Berkeley, he said.
“Downtown is still strong,” he said, noting that brokers have told him that rents have dropped significantly in Emeryville, but stayed strong in Berkeley.
Dick Odenheimer, a broker and partner with MRE Commercial Real Estate in Emeryville, agrees with Lambert on the basic long-term stability of Berkeley’s economy. He pointed to the
university, noting that it drives much of the employment. “There are so many spin offs,” he said.
Still Odenheimer has seen the negative signs: “I had five bankrupt tenants in the last few months,” he said, further noting, “We have way less demand than we have seen in the last couple of years.”
ComputerWare was a 17-year-old Macintosh only retail store, which began with a single, tiny storefront in Palo Alto. Since 1984, the company had grown to 10 stores scattered around the Bay Area.
The end came Monday night, when the chain’s primary investor, Knightsbridge Holdings of Las Vegas, abruptly pulled its funding.
Even management employees at the chain’s headquarters didn’t know of the shutdown until they reported for work Tuesday and were told to clean out their desks, according to an online posting from one such employee.
An inventory liquidation sale is going on at ComputerWare’s Sunnyvale store, but all the others are shut down.
“Regrettably, after 17 years in business, we are unable to continue,” says a flier posted on the Berkeley store, signed only, “Your friends at ComputerWare.”
Even though Lambert insists downtown Berkeley office space is strong, next to the empty ComputerWare store is an equally empty United Airlines ticket agency. It left at the end of January. Also bound to hurt the University Avenue area is last week’s closure of the UC Theater.
On the plus side, however, is the second Berkeley Repertory Theatre stage that recently opened on Addison Street, one block south of University, and other nearby entertainment venues under construction.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.