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A visual vacation

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JUNE 23, 2014

As many embark homeward for the warmer months of the year, students and residents alike can experience the respite of summer through immersion into a visual vacation provided by local comic book stores, museums and video stores.

The ebb and flow of students and the city’s summer tourist population affects local businesses that provide unique experiences for their customers in different ways.

“Every local business operates under a school schedule, especially Cal’s schedule,” said Laura Kenmotsu, a clerk at Five Star Video on University Avenue. “Business slows down and picks up in the fall and spring.”

Many of the customers at the video store are middle-aged adults, families or kids trying to find a movie “a little out of their age-appropriateness.”

“The kids are out of school,” Kenmotsu said. “They like to come in as a group, and they’re fun to watch.”

Kenmotsu said customers often like to rent flicks such as “Pineapple Express” in the warmer months and that there are a lot of indie movies distributed to the store over the summer.

Five Star Video increased its rental price for older, nonnew-release movies, by $0.50 at the beginning of June because of business slowing down. Kenmotsu said the store’s busiest seasons are around Thanksgiving and Christmas and just after the Oscars. But there were still a few customers milling around the store, including a young girl with a dog. Kenmotsu pulled a container filled with dog treats from behind the counter and handed one over to the enthusiastic little customer with a grin on her face.

Another local business, Fantastic Comics on Shattuck Avenue, is known for its warm atmosphere and the friendliness between customers and staff. The store’s branch manager, Jeff Carter, greets some customers by name, and those wandering around the store appear to be very content.

Fantastic Comics thrives in Berkeley’s summer tourist throng because these tourists are more likely to buy collections, which are more expensive than monthly issues of comic books, according to Carter.

Carter added that a majority of their customers during the school year are students, but they also have a lot of nonstudent customers and families, as well as people who come from outside of the city to shop at the store.

“Comic books have changed a lot in the past 10, 15 years,” Carter said. “They used to be mainly superheroes; now there’s something for everyone.”

The store has grown accustomed to the change in demographics over the summer, and they start ordering more or less of certain items, according to Carter.

Although there are several other comic book stores nearby, Carter explains there is limited competition because customers are very loyal to their favorite stores since they know the staff.

“Berkeley is such an eclectic mix of people,” Carter said. “I think there’s a good majority of people here who like comic books.”

The famous Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives is also filled with all types of visually appealing exhibits and events.

“This summer is kind of more robust as far as our programming goes,” said Peter Cavagnaro, media relations manager at BAM/PFA, when comparing this summer to previous summers.

Among the multitude of events this summer is the final installment in a three-part series celebrating American comedies, with screenings of films such as “Groundhog Day”and “Office Space” at the PFA theater on campus.

Chinese and Japanese artwork donated by the late UC Berkeley professor emeritus James Cahill will also be displayed in tribute beginning next month, and an exhibition exploring the relationships between color has already been installed.

Contact Angel Grace Jennings at 


JUNE 23, 2014