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Radstons Quits After 98 Years in Berkeley

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday June 09, 2006

It’s the end of an era for yet another independent Berkeley retailer.  

Radstons Office Plus, celebrating its 98th birthday this year, will shut the doors to its 1950 Shattuck Avenue retail store on July 14. Founded in 1908, the store is in its third generation of ownership. 

“It’s difficult to point a finger at any particular reason for the closure,” said Diane Griffin, president of Radstons. “Let’s just say that it’s all things Berkeley, topped off with the fact that our lease ran out. We just couldn’t afford to pay the prohibitive increase in rent anymore as there wasn’t enough profit out of our downtown retail store. I hope both my father and grandfather who ran the business before me are looking down and understanding the decision we had to take.” 

Under Griffin, Radstons became a major, independently owned provider of business products to offices around the Bay Area. According to Griffin, the store closure will allow resources to be more focused on its core delivery business in Hercules, which accounts for 90 percent of the company’s sales and caters to public institutions and small- to medium-sized, independently owned businesses.  

The decision to close the store was made by Griffin and her husband Sterling in April when they realized that they would not be able to sign another five-year lease.  

“It was painful to say the least,” she said. “After the state health building opposite to the store closed down we just didn’t get enough foot traffic anymore. In this age of instant gratification, where everything is done over the Internet, it is extremely difficult to sell office products at retail.” 

Mayor Tom Bates, in a telephone interview, said, “We are sorry to hear that Radstons is closing down because it’s not being able to continue with its lease. It was an integral part of downtown Berkeley. Times are definitely changing and the downtown area is seeing a whole lot of changes everyday. There are some positive things happening as well—such as boutique hotels, condos, and jazz clubs that will hopefully help to make the place more attractive.” 

The city’s commercial department is now taking bids from office suppliers for an annual contract of $500,000 under which the city will be buying office supplies. Usually preference is given to local merchants for contracts under $25,000, but in this case the contract value is higher. Griffin said he is hopeful that Radstons’ commercial business will win the bid. 

All current employers at Radstons Berkeley location will be out of their jobs on July 14, but they will all receive severance packages.  

Terence Epps, who has been with the store for the last six years, lamented the closure. “I am going to be pounding on the pavements as of July 15,” he said. “What makes me sad to see this place go is that it offered a very unique retail experience.” 

According to Zelda Bronstein, Berkeley mayoral candidate and former Planning Commission chair, the loss of Radstons is a variation of the loss of Cody’s. “Here we have another longtime, respected Berkeley retailer shutting down. Phoenix Opticals and Cody’s both closed down, and now it’s Radstons. It’s really sad that this is happening in Berkeley, a city know for its independent spirit.” 

Alison Paskal, who works for UC Berkeley, was picking up stationary at Radstons on Thursday afternoon. “The city needs to be involved to support these businesses and to keep it a city free from stores you’ll find at shopping malls,” she said. “Therein lies the charm of Berkeley.” 

Gary Shows of Alko Office Supply Store in downtown Berkeley—the sole remaining independent office supply store in the city—said times were rough for them as well. 

“Although being the only office supply store left now might help us, there is more stationery than customers,” Shows said. “Half of my block is empty with Eddie Bauer and Gateway moving out. Shoppers need to be downtown to come into the store and that’s not happening anymore.” 

Shows commented that the city used to buy office supplies from local stores more actively about ten years ago but that changed after the big box stores came into the picture. The same, he said was the situation with UC’s procurement department. 

“UC Berkeley is aggressively trying to get departments to buy from Office Max, with whom they established a contract in January 2005,” he said. “They have suddenly stopped supporting us. My customers from UC have received letters telling them they shouldn’t buy from local stores. It’s fast becoming a situation where local resources are no longer being kept in the community.”