Dark Carnival bookstore closing after more than 40 years

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Joshua Jordan/Staff

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The giant, inflatable black cat outside of Dark Carnival’s storefront is not just for decoration. According to owner Jack Rems, “it’s so that people are greeted with a smile when they come in.”

Inside the store, books that cannot fit in the overflowing shelves spill onto the floor, stacked waist-high and packed into corners. The interior of the intimate store, however, is filled with more than books it is also pervaded by a somber mood. Dark Carnival, a fantasy and science-fiction bookstore on Claremont Avenue, will be closing its doors after more than 40 years.

Rems, a campus alumnus and the owner of Dark Carnival and its sister comic book store The Escapist Comic Bookstore, first opened Dark Carnival on Telegraph Avenue in 1976. Rems has managed Dark Carnival at its current location, 3086 Claremont Ave., for the last 24 years. Rems said he does not have a set date for Dark Carnival’s official closure.

“The neighborhood here has been very nice and supportive,” Rems said. “It’s just not quite enough.”

Jeffrey Matucha, a Berkeley resident and a regular customer at Dark Carnival, said he has been visiting the store since it was located on Telegraph Avenue.

He called Dark Carnival a “very special and unique place” and a “must-see spot” in the East Bay.

“It’s one of those old stores where stuff is just crammed into every nook and cranny and you could spend hours looking around,” Matucha said. “It’s like a quantum singularity of nerdiness.”

Jordan Klein, the acting economic development manager in Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development, wrote in an email that it was “disappointing” to see the closure of a “longstanding, well loved, independently-owned small business” such as Dark Carnival.

Klein added that online shopping, increasing labor costs and higher rents present challenges for independent retailers.

“Just about everyone loves and appreciates the small, neighborhood-serving businesses that contribute so much to our community’s character and culture,” Klein wrote. “Remember what we’re sacrificing when we choose convenience over shopping locally.”

Amy Thomas, the owner of Pegasus Books, said she is “devastated” by Dark Carnival’s closure.

Thomas said Rems has been “a real friend and supporter” while she has been in Berkeley, and called him “a real leader in his field.” Thomas said Rems’ experience and knowledge in science fiction will be lost “because people want to save a few bucks.”

“If (people) want the kind of expertise and flat out brilliance that Jack brought to the reading and dispensing of science-fiction books that he sold, (they’re) going to have to shop (at Dark Carnival),” Thomas said.

Rems said the decision to close Dark Carnival was difficult.

“A lot of locals tell me they feel even worse about it than I do, and I say, ‘I don’t think so,’ ” Rems said. “I’m pretty much just heartbroken. This is what I did with my whole life and it’ll be forgotten pretty soon.”

Contact Valerie Hsieh at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @valhsieh.