Shakespeare & Co. Books closes after 51 years because of financial troubles

Alvin Wu/Staff

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Shakespeare & Co., one of the oldest independent bookstores in Berkeley, officially closed its doors June 2 because of a decline in sales.

The bookstore, located on the corner of Dwight Way and Telegraph Avenue, specialized in used and antiquarian books for 51 years. Jon Wobber, the owner of Shakespeare & Co., left a note taped to the store’s front door that said, “The past couple of months were unsupportable.”

Wobber, who could not be reached for comment, said in his note that he attempted to sell the store to keep it open but had no takers.

Cody’s Books, a popular independent bookstore on Telegraph Avenue, also closed down in 2008 because of financial troubles. Now, Moe’s Books is the only remaining bookstore located on Telegraph Avenue near campus.

“It’s always sad when we lose a fellow,” said Doris Moskowitz, owner of Moe’s Books. “(Shakespeare & Co.) did it as long as they could.”

Telegraph Avenue “doesn’t get the same attention as the rest of the city gets,” Moskowitz added, making it a “pretty brutal” place for a bookstore to thrive.

Local bookstores need support from students at UC Berkeley in order to prevent the further decline of bookstores in the city, she said.

“It’s a little bit shocking because we’ve got 35,000 students, so you’d think there would be a better market for it,” said David Eifler, a librarian at UC Berkeley’s Environmental Design Library.

The closing of Shakespeare & Co. reflects a shift in the way people — particularly students — now purchase books, Eifler said, with more and more students turning to online services.

“You walk into a bookstore, and you get to see what all the people are interested in, and you get to see what the best titles are,” Eifler said. “The kind of serendipity of finding a title changes your life, and it doesn’t happen in Amazon. It’s a terrible thing to lose that.”

According to John Campion, an English lecturer at UC Berkeley, it’s the responsibility of community members to prevent the decline of local, independent businesses.

“If we want to do something, we have to find a way in the face of difficulties to find a new kind of commons for all of us — even the things that we don’t even know are so important,” Campion said. “In the same way that Shakespeare & Co. carried the texts of many places and many minds forward, we — in our bodies and selves — carry a memory theater of this planet.”

In his note, Wobber said he plans to reopen Vicarious Experience Used Books, a bookstore he owns in Cotati, California, and to sell books online.

Contact Sujin Shin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @sujinjshin.