Black Oak Bookstore nears final chapter with scheduled March closure

Tim Hyon/Staff

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Berkeley’s Black Oak Bookstore is nearing its final chapter, with its closing scheduled for mid-March after 37 years in business.

Originally located on Shattuck Avenue, Black Oak was forced to relocate to San Pablo Avenue seven years ago because of the continual rise of rent costs, according to Mario Jacobus, the store’s manager. The store will be offering a 75-percent-off sale on all books starting Wednesday, which Jacobus hopes will attract a burst of customers.

“We were hoping this area would develop,” Jacobus said of the original relocation. The new location, however, did not attract enough walk-in traffic, and business continued to slow after its first year.

Justin Georganas, an employee of Black Oak who has been visiting the store since he was a child, said it is up to the public to help keep the independent bookstore business alive. He expressed disappointment that customers of the original location did not make the effort to travel to the new location, which was only 1.3 miles away.

With property values going up, it is not just people who are forced to leave the area but also businesses, said Black Oak customer and Berkeley resident Trenton DuVal.

Another struggle the business experienced was the increase in minimum wage, according to Jacobus. He said it has made it harder for the bookstore to meet the increasing costs of operation.

Doris Moskowitz, the owner of Moe’s Books, noted that Black Oak was started by past Moe’s Books employees with the hope of founding a bookstore that would hold fun events and creative ways to promote books.

“I know the community of North Berkeley misses them very much,” Moskowitz said.

Georganas said the closing of the bookstore is a tragedy for the community because Black Oak serves as a local staple for the city of Berkeley. The closing follows the general trend of developments on San Pablo Avenue, which will likely lead to the building’s conversion into a housing complex, according to Georganas.

Jacobus noted that one of the difficulties of running an independent bookstore is growing competition from online retailers and the rising popularity of e-books and Kindles. Nevertheless, Moskowitz emphasized the special social, tactile and intellectual experience offered only by physically shopping at bookstores.

“There’s sort of a magical feeling of walking down an aisle of books,” Georganas said.

Kyle Walsh, another employee of Black Oak, said that by shopping in bookstores, customers can find books they otherwise would not notice. In addition, independent bookstores such as Black Oak have an experienced staff that is available to offer recommendations to customers.

“I definitely think the experience is better in store,” Walsh said.

Contact Roann Pao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @roann_pao”.