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Cody’s Closes For Good, Black Oak Now Under New Ownership

By Judith Scherr
Thursday June 26, 2008 - 09:21:00 AM

After 52 years at various Berkeley locations—and one in San Francisco—Cody’s Books has closed the store it opened just three months ago on Shattuck Avenue. Barring a miracle, Cody’s will not reopen, according to Hiroshi Kagawa, the store’s third and last owner. 

Black Oak Books, in Berkeley for about 24 years, has fared better. The store shut down for one day this week—Monday—and has reopened under new ownership. Meanwhile, the century-old magazine seller DeLauers of Oakland is reportedly going out of business. 

Kagawa, who has been traveling between his home in Japan and the Bay Area store, expressed sadness at the closing in a letter of apology to Pat Cody, who founded the bookstore with her husband Fred in an 18-by-29-foot shop on Euclid Avenue in 1956. The duo had borrowed the $5,000 they needed for the effort, later moving the business to the famed Telegraph Avenue location. 

“Cody’s means so much to me, as I know it meant so much to you and Fred,” Kagawa wrote in a two-page letter to Cody. “Therefore it is a heartbreaking moment to give this news. Please forgive me as I know this announcement causes a big disappointment to you.”  

Despite spending millions of dollars on the effort, “I am unable to keep this landmark independent bookstore … open,” he wrote. 

As CEO of Yohan, Inc, a Tokyo-based foreign publications dealer, publisher and retailer Kagawa purchased Cody’s in September 2006 from Andy Ross, who had owned Cody’s since 1977 and was responsible for its expansion to Stockton Street in San Francisco and Fourth Street in Berkeley. Ross closed the Telegraph Avenue store in July 2006, several months before selling the business to Yohan.  

In his letter, Kagawa explained what happened to Yohan. “My Japanese operation was taken over by an investment bank, whose strategy was incompatible with mine. These bankers drove me from my company and attempted to terminate Cody’s because, from their point of view, it was not profitable,” he wrote, going on to say that in order to protect Cody’s from the bankers, he took it out of their control and formed a new corporation.  

“But my new operation is not strong enough or rich enough to support Cody’s,” he said. 

Sales at the new store on Shattuck were growing day by day but not enough to overcome the deficit, he wrote. 

Nonetheless, Kagawa said he’s not ready to give up. “I still have a strong desire to see a miracle. I still hope we can fight back even after we close the doors. I still feel that we all need Cody’s as the symbol of the fighting spirit in the publishing society of the U.S. And I still love and cherish this bookstore, just as I did 25 years ago,” he wrote. 

Pat Cody told the Planet she was touched by the letter but wasn’t surprised at the store closing.  

“You have to fit this into the bigger picture of what’s been happening all over the country, with the use of the Internet to sell and download books,” she said. “It’s a big change.” 

When people order books on line, there’s no choice, nowhere to browse and pick up new ideas. “It’s a cold transaction,” she said. 

But it was always a struggle to make ends meet at the bookstore, Cody said. In the ’70s, she recalls, they had to take her off the payroll. 

But it was an exciting time to be in the book business. Among her fondest memories is the interaction with customers, which helped the Codys decide what books to stock. People would come in and say, “You should get this book,” and it would sell 15 copies in a week, she said. 

Friday morning passersby at 2201 Shattuck found a locked store and a sign taped on the glass doors reading: “Cody’s Books is Closed—Thank You.” Above the windows a recently hung temporary banner proclaimed: “Now Open—Cody’s Books.”  

Melissa Mytinger, Cody’s last manager, told the Planet that employees learned of the store’s closing during an all-staff meeting Friday morning. She had no forewarning of the move, she said.  

“We were all shocked,” she said. “It was a great team.”  


Black Oak  

Black Oak, on the other hand, has apparently dodged the bullet. 

For more than a year, the partnership that owned Black Oak Books made no secret of the fact that the business, known for its many rare and first edition books, was for sale. And now, according to property owner David Ruegg, it has been sold. 

The new owner is Gary Cornell, who hails from Connecticut. He has not returned Planet calls. 

Ruegg said the new owner is taking over the old lease on the same terms as previous owners. 

The north Shattuck shopping strip where Black Oak is located does not appear to be thriving, apart from Saul’s deli and Long’s Drugs. The former Lobelia clothing store adjacent to Black Oak is empty and Papyrus next to Lobelia is closing Friday.