Public Comment

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

By Ted Friedman
Thursday April 16, 2009 - 06:43:00 PM

Even though you can’t always get what you want, you can’t even get what you need, try hard as you may. Not in Berkeley anyway. They not only tore down paradise, but also they tore down the parking lot (although later). 

Did the decline begin when Hinks department store (“A Great Store at Home”) closed, or was it the teardown of the Hinks parking lot, a theory that usually precedes such discussions? If so, the final straw fell when Penney’s closed (yes, Berkeley had one, but hardly a great store at home), then gave way to Ross (“Dress for Less”) and now stands naked. 

Of the legendary departed stores one might note Edy’s, where Eugene O’Neill ice-creamed, presumably after Hinking, or Tupper and Reid more recently (Berkeley’s last general downtown music store). And just when blame for Cody’s closure fell on Barnes and Noble, the former car dealership slipped out of town. 

Berkeley has additionally lost five movie venues, three of them irreplaceable single screens (the Berkeley, the UC, the Fine Arts) and more recently the artsy Act I & II. The last comprehensive newspaper and magazine shop (Fred’s) closed last year, after Whelans replaced the intellectual baggage of a magazine shop with a bunch of hookahs. 

Blame such losses on the usual suspects: King Internet. Why not? Everyone else does (an exception: closing day at Fred’s, the owner could be heard muttering, “No one reads anymore”). But you can read your computer (it can also be used as a musical instrument) and send away for anything but ice cream; if not a “store at home” then one from home. If this doesn’t satisfy, blame city government. But when blame fails, coping must step in. 

Berkeley does have its consolations, not to mention a smattering of what has been lost. Hinks has morphed into Shattuck Cinemas, your downtown multiplex, Berkeley style: five half-assed screens and three “viewing rooms” scrunched around the original Hinks columns. “New” books show up at UC Berkeley’s student union bookstore, and Pegasus (mainly used) has a few, as does the venerable Moe’s (quite a few, actually), but Moe’s is known for used and antiquarian. Black Oak has some (but how new?) and perhaps the biggest for new, the elegant University Press Books, although specializing in, what else, books from university presses. All of these stores stock some magazines. Your library (main branch) always has a shelf or two of the latest books and a DeLauer selection of magazines. As a footnote: the main library has become an art-house cinema lending library. Consolations to be sure, but scattered (better perhaps for around-town walks). 

Edy’s, Hinks, the UC, reflective of earlier times, cannot be replaced, and the loss of the Hinks parking lot (half a square city block, three floors) probably killed off nearby businesses. But all this city-sensitivity ignores (naturally) the King Kong that is UC Berkeley, a cultural monstrosity (often attacked here as more of a Frankenstein) yet it has it all. 

Berkeley has always had such attractions. There is just a lessening that needs to be noted and mourned. 


Ted Friedman is a Berkeley resident.