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Japanese Buyer Vows To Strenghten Cody’s

By Judith Scherr
Friday September 08, 2006

Three generations of Cody’s Books owners—Pat Cody, Andy Ross and Hiroshi Kagawa—sat around a small table Thursday morning at the Fourth Street store. 

The three were all smiles as they chatted with reporters about the sale of the two remaining Cody’s stores to Yohan, Inc, the Tokyo-based company of which Kagawa is CEO. 

Pat Cody and her late husband Fred Cody opened their first store in 1956; Ross took it over in 1977, later adding the second store in Berkeley and a new one in San Francisco. In July he closed the flagship store on Telegraph Avenue. 

Cody’s will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Yohan. Ross will remain president and his wife, Leslie Berkler, will become vice-president.  

Changes will only mean the stores get better, Ross said, adding that the new investor’s cash infusion will mean that customers will find the shelves restocked—especially with those books that don’t fly off the shelves, for which Cody’s is known. 

“Within two months this store and the San Francisco store will be bulging with books,” Ross said, cautioning, “We’re not a library. We can’t have books that don’t sell. We want to carry books that sell once or twice a year, because it makes the bookstore interesting.”  

“Like the OED,” Cody interjected, referring to the $995 Oxford English Dictionary. “Fred (Cody) said, I don’t care if it only sells once a year, it makes me feel good that we have a bookstore with the OED.” 

The authors’ events will continue. The children’s section will grow larger. And customers will begin to see some new titles, especially some arts books from Japan, Kagawa said. 

Cody’s will be able to take advantage of Yohan’s role as a book distributor—it is the largest distributor of general foreign books and magazines in Asia, according to a press statement.  

“Yohan’s is the English distributor to the Japanese market. We buy lots and lots of books from U.S. publishers. So we can be a good negotiator,” Kagawa said. 

Ross was quick to point out, however, that while Yohan is bigger than Cody’s it is much smaller than Barnes and Noble, and the real advantage will be the investment capital rather than discounted prices. Yohan is capitalized at $4.5 million, according to its website. 

They also hope to build new and stronger relationships with small presses, Berkler said. That includes Berkeley-based Stone Bridge Press, which Yohan bought last year.  

And the same sales staff—with the same union, SEIU 790—will serve the customers, with, perhaps, the addition of new staff who are experts in Japanese titles. 

And, no—the Telegraph store won’t be revived, even though it was that store that originally attracted Kagawa to Cody’s when he first saw it in 1983 when he was sent to the United States by the Japanese publisher he was working for at the time. It was losing too much money, Ross said. 

“We did have some discussion—but it really was declining in sales so much. I just don’t see it as being possible. There are too many things that have happened,” Ross said, noting that someone had called the Telegraph Avenue store’s demise, “death by 1,000 knives,” with the combination of factors that went into the business decline. 

But Kagawa said he sees the changes in Cody’s as renovations but not changes, keeping the same foundation or “gene” of the store on Telegraph he so admired. 

“That gene is really important,” he said. “If you destroy that gene, people will fight.” 

Ross joked that his new job as Cody’s president will be a big change. 

“I’ve been in business 35 years and I’ve never worked for anyone else,” he said. “But Hiroshi’s first instruction to me was: keep raising hell.” 

More seriously, Ross said he thanked the community that has stayed faithful to the store and added that the new ownership will allow Cody’s to become the store he had hoped for. 

“This is a very happy day for me,” he said.