‘Ebb and flow’: Changes in Berkeley businesses this year

Katherine Qiu/Staff

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This year, Berkeleyans said goodbye to more than a dozen businesses. From the closure of Barclay’s Restaurant and Pub in January to Ici Ice Cream shutting its doors in November, as well as many others in between, Berkeley storefronts are constantly changing.

According to Jordan Klein, economic development manager for the city, while it may appear that there have been more business turnovers as of late, there is no direct evidence that the level of turnover is higher.

“It’s a normal part of commercial activity for businesses to open and businesses to close,” Klein said. Recent closures of high-profile businesses such as Ici Ice Cream garner a lot of attention and get people concerned, he said.

Other businesses that have shut their doors this year include Gordo Taqueria, Indian Flavors Express, PIQ Bakery, Mad Monk Center for Anachronistic Media, The Melt and Sol y Luna Taqueria, among others.

Business closures are rarely caused by one individual factor but rather almost always result from a combination of factors, Klein said. These include increasing labor costs, increasing rent costs, the expiration of a lease and decision not to renew, a change in the business owner’s life situation, competition from the internet and illegal street behavior, he said.

Stuart Baker, the executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, also said that while it may seem as if there is a lot of turnover, there are many factors that play into the equation.

For example, low vacancy rates mean that while businesses may leave, others are quick to fill in, he said. For businesses selling food, there is basically a zero vacancy rate because they are “immune to the challenges of the internet,” and Telegraph Avenue is a central destination for customers seeking food options, Baker said.

Retail, however, is not immune, and both Baker and Klein noted a citywide decline in retail due to the internet.

“Telegraph used to be a much more retail focus, and students have shifted a lot of their purchases to online, and that has a negative impact on the retail,” Baker said. “If you really support local business and small business and having a place you can shop, then putting your dollars where your values lie is important.”

The city of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development provides services to Berkeley businesses to address the factors that may lead to turnover. The office recently formed two new partnerships, with Project Equity and Uptima Business Bootcamp, for a program focused on retention of existing businesses that are at risk of displacement and foreclosure, Klein said.

The program, which is expected to launch by January 2019, is intended to assist about 20 to 30 businesses over the course of the next two years, Klein said.

John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association described the business turnovers as an “ebb and flow” and added that generally “the Downtown businesses are doing fairly well.”

Caner added that Downtown Berkeley businesses have been helped by the new BART plaza and the Downtown parking garage.

“Berkeleyans are pretty discerning — they really like good food and good prices. Most of the time, our merchants are able to do that, but it’s hard running a small business,” Caner said.

As some businesses close their doors, others open. On Shattuck Avenue alone, Berkeley residents can look forward to eating at Western Pacific, a pizza restaurant that recently opened in November, as well as PinkBox Doughnuts and Sliver Pizzeria, which are set to open their doors shortly, according to Caner.

Contact Katherine Kemp at [email protected] .