Page One

Black Oak Books Looks For Buyer

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday January 12, 2007

Black Oak Books is up for sale and could close as soon as this summer if no buyer is found.  

If the owners decide to renew the lease, they said it will likely mean an end of author book readings at the store and a reduced staff. 

A sign on the independent bookstore’s website informs visitors that the Berkeley store at 1491 Shattuck Ave., as well as the 630 Irving St. store in San Francisco, have been put up for sale. 

“Yes, Black Oak Books is for sale but we haven’t decided what to do yet. We have a lease coming up for renewal on June 30, 2008, which we may or may not renew. But we are looking into all the possibilities,” said Don Pretari, one of the co-owners of Black Oak. 

Known for keeping many rare and signed first edition and out-of print titles, Black Oak has offered an eclectic selection of “new, used and antiquarian” books to Bay Area readers for more than two decades. 

Pretari said that the business has suffered heavy losses in the last few years and blamed slow foot traffic, the rise of the Internet and big chain bookstores. 

He added that the owners were required to inform the landlord about not renewing the lease a year in advance and that was why the search for possible investors in the store started in January. 

“We have a choice of renewing our lease in June and carrying on. We would probably have to bring about some organizational changes but we will try and keep the essence of the store as what it is, a general scholarly new-and-used book store.” 

Pretari said the organizational changes could include lay-offs and getting rid of readings. 

“The events at the bookstore are free,” he said. “True that it brings in people who buy our books but we don’t get any financial assistance for hosting book readings. It’s more like a community service and we are losing money because of it.” 

Store hours would also be reduced from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. to 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Pretari said that the selection of books at the store would not change. 

“I am committed to selling the kind of books that we are selling right now,” he said. “I am not interested in selling other kinds of books at Black Oak.” 

Bob Brown, one of the partners of Black Oaks, echoed Pretari’s thoughts and said it was becoming harder and harder to run the independent bookstore. Pertari, Brown, Herb Bivins and Jeanne Baldock opened Black Oak Books in 1983 and have operated the bookstore together since then. 

“Black Oaks is still viable as a bookstore but it’s becoming increasingly harder to be successful,” Pretari said. “I am getting tired of it. One of my partners is 68 years old. He could easily retire. We once had lucrative health plans at the store which we had to end.” 

The second option the owners have decided on is to sell the store to someone who would want to invest in it before the lease ran out. 

Pretari and Brown said that it was difficult to zero in on an exact figure for the price of the store but added that so far they had five responses from interested parties. 

The current lease on the bookstore is for $16,000 per month. 

“We hope the buyer continues to run Black Oaks as an independent bookstore, but in the end what they do with it is up to them,” said Pretari. 

The last option would be not to renew the lease and to close down the business between July 2007 to July 2008.  

When asked if Black Oak’s customers had been disappointed by the news, Pretari talked about the lack of supportive customers. 

“We have had a lot of valuable customers in the last 23 years, but the important question to ask today is that are there enough people who value this kind of business? Far too many people are using the bookstore just as a showroom. They come in and browse the titles but when it comes to buying them from the store, they prefer getting the discounted versions either online or somewhere else.” 

With Cody’s Books on Telegraph Avenue going out of business in July, Black Oak Books could become the second independent bookstore in Berkeley to close if its owners decide that they do not want to continue with the business. 

Pretari said that if the community really cared about independent book stores going out of business, not enough was being done to show that. 

“Large publishers have also become extremely tough to deal with. They are not as lenient with credit or payment of bills as they used to be,” he said. 

At a recent meeting about the North Shattuck Plaza in October, an employee from Black Oak books had expressed concern about the Plaza taking away parking spaces and decreasing foot traffic.  

Pretari added that although plans for the plaza had not been responsible for the current situation, the plaza would not help the store.