Public Comment

Weak Links Heighten Loss in Berkeley

By Ted Friedman
Tuesday August 10, 2010 - 04:15:00 PM

Weak links in a chain often break and that's just what happened in the loss of the U.C. theater a decade ago and now Reel Video, both killed off by their parents. 

These were both going concerns, although Landmark cited falling receipts at the U.C. And Barnes & Noble may also have succumbed to the corporate bottom line. 

So where does that leave us now? And when will the second, third, or fourth shoes fall? Is Berkeley having the future rubbed in its face? Where is Stewart Brand when we need him? 

We still have video stores somewhere,(but not in south Berkeley which also has lost Vidiots in the Elmwood). 

Blockbusters, despite its jumbo name, is far from a jumbo video store. Although comparing Blockbusters to Reel may be applying too high a standard, it would be fair to say that it is barely sufficient. Is this a trend—for Berkeley to lose its good stuff and be left some bare minimum? 

We have excellent boutique bookstores, off-beat clothing stores, etc.; we just don't have Reel, U.C Theater's jumbo screen, Cody's, Black Oaks Northside, (Black Oaks] new location far from the Northside is a work in progress) a major department store, or even a minor one like Ross, which has departed. 

The loss of authors’talks is still haunting us as we have to turn to "educational" T.V. for this. It's true that smaller stores than Cody's or the previous Black Oaks have poetry and fiction readings by authors, but the days of a weekly stream of well-known non-fiction writers at Cody's or Black Oaks are kaput. 

Our stuff keeps slip-sliding away. Can we dudes abide? 

Who knows? But when the going gets rough, the rough find rough alternatives. 

Netflix has its advantages, but being able to stumble on a rarity on VHS is not one of them. The Pacific Film Archive screens two films daily( art-house, exploitation, even mainstream). This is an enormous undertaking requiring multiple programmers. The PFA is concluding a three month Kurosawa centennial retrospective, while concurrently covering the works of Francesco Rosi. This is perhaps enough to console if not distract from the erosion of our reel worlds. Amoeba and Rasputin's offer a deep collection of DVDs which can be "rented." It is some kind of a secret that the Berkeley Public Library and its branches have quietly assembled an important DVD collection over the years.  

Sometimes you get lucky and can cop a glance at text on Amazon, or read public domain classics on your computer. But glancing at shelves, leafing through books, is generally only available for used or remainders. 

Cody's magazine section as well as Dave's International, and Barnes and Nobles magazines cannot be replaced. But if you don't mind openly reading magazines at BPL central without that warm feeling of ignoring a "no browsing" sign, you will find highly specialized mags. 

Here is a partial list of what we still have. Enough restaurants, coffee houses, pizza stands, and farmer's markets to plotz over. 

Clothing and shoes you won't find at the mall, specialty book stores, led by Moe's the vast emporium of used (and some new) books, followed by the amazing University Press Books ( mostly academic press books); Mrs.Dalloway’s has added a section of "new" books. 

What more could we ask? A thin voice replies, "turn back the clock" even if only a little. 

If this were a Coen Brothers Film, you might see visions of floating shoes waiting to fall, but until that time, be guided by those Rolling Stones gurus: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you may get what you need. 

The trying just got really harder. 


Ted Friedman is a forty-year resident of Berkeley