Local Booksellers Cheer Barnes & Noble’s Demise

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday March 02, 2007

The Barnes & Noble bookstore located in downtown Berkeley will close May 31, a piece of news that has left local independent booksellers ecstatic. 

“I am overjoyed, to say the least,” said Tim Rogers, store manager for Pegasus Books located right across the street from the Barnes & Noble. 

“This is great news for us,” he said. “Although we were not in direct competition with BN, it was interesting working so close to a big chain. I am sure this will improve business for us.” 

Store employees declined to comment Thursday on the reason for closure. Barnes & Noble customer relations could not be reached before press time. 

“Berkeley’s a tough market to break into when it comes to selling books. We have some tough competition here in the form of local bookstores,” said Michael Caplan, the city's economic development manager. “The Barnes & Noble on Shattuck was a smaller store for the chain compared to its other locations. It just wasn’t doing the preferred volume. I guess that’s one of the reasons for it closing down.” 

Rogers said that the model that helped local book stores such as Pegasus survive was to deal in used as well as new books. 

“Sometimes you just need to do things differently,” he said. “Berkeley is a great book town and we think Pegasus has what it needs to cater to booklovers here. New book stores sometimes have it harder than used bookstores.” 

Pegasus was started 30 years ago in the Bay Area, and it has two other locations, on Solano Avenue in Berkeley and on College Avenue in Oakland. It is currently owned by Amy Thomas, a Berkeley resident. 

“What we have is a mixture of old and new,” she said. “We sell books, we buy books, we trade books. Our staff is friendly and knowledgeble and we indulge in all kinds of fun stuff such as free poetry broadsides, author readings and even the occasional Harry Potter midnight party.” 

Thomas said she is not sad to see Barnes & Noble leave Berkeley. 

“They ran the place like a business,” she said. “For us it’s more of a community thing. People who work at Pegasus and buy from Pegasus live in Berkeley. As a result the money is going back into Berkeley. But this is not the case for chains such as Barnes & Noble.” 

Pegasus reported an increase in revenue during Christmas, which store employees said was likely the result of Cody’s on Telegraph closing down in July. 

“It’s not as if I have anything against chain stores, but if a customer asks me about a book we don’t have in the store, I’ld rather direct them to Moe’s or local stores rather than Barnes & Noble,” Thomas said. 

“My first thought was happiness,” said Doris Moskowitz of Moe’s Books. “When the Barnes & Noble first moved into Berkeley, the smaller book stores were afraid it would mean less business for them. Big powerful bookstores don’t belong in a city like Berkeley. Now that they are moving out, it’s a big relief.” 

Moskowitz inherited the bookstore from her father Moe Moskowitz who started the new and used book store in 1959. 

“Their sales were pretty good, but there were some things in there which just didn’t make any sense to me,” she said. “For instance, that fountain in the middle of the bookstore. Why do you need that? Moe’s is like a theatre to the mind. It’s clean, bright and lovely, an absolute pleasure to be in.” 

Councilmember Dona Spring, who represents the district Barnes & Noble is located in, said that the closure, while possibly a boon for local book sellers, leaves Berkeley with still fewer bookstores. 

“I don’t think it is good news,” she said. “A lot of people enjoyed going there and browsing through the large collections. It had good parking and was safe. The Internet is leaving us with less and less book stores now, which is really sad.”