Jaguar Karaoke at risk of closing permanently due to COVID-19 pandemic

Jaguar Karaoke
Mark Unger/File

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Jaguar Karaoke on Durant Avenue, which customers say has brought people together, is at risk of closing after 10 years of business due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to owner Paul Lee, Jaguar Karaoke has been closed indefinitely since March 15. He added that a variety of students have come in for club-bonding activities and birthdays given its close proximity to UC Berkeley. Matthew Lee, Paul Lee’s son and rising campus senior, started a GoFundMe page May 20 to help alleviate costs such as rent. There have been nearly 200 donors in the last four days.

“I was pretty shocked at the prospect of Jaguar Karaoke closing,” said rising campus sophomore April Ma in an email. “I’ve only been at Berkeley for a year, going to Jaguar Karaoke was one of my first and most memorable experiences as a freshman.”

Ma also said she donated because she believes it is especially important to support small businesses, as they contribute to Berkeley’s diversity. She called it a “hallmark” of the Berkeley experience, adding that she and her friends would go to Jaguar Karaoke after a hard week during the school year.

Paul Lee said he was initially going to close down Jaguar Karaoke due to the financial strain from closing in light of the pandemic, but then his two children mentioned how many people had made great memories at Jaguar Karaoke and would be saddened if it was closed permanently. He added that he was persuaded to start a GoFundMe page but was not expecting much and was “pleasantly surprised” when he saw so many people responding.

“Honestly, the way that they treat people is incredible. They’ve created so much joy and love within the Berkeley community,” said campus alumnus Madhav Soni. “It’s really unfortunate that this crisis has affected their business the way it has and it would be really unfortunate to see them go.”

Paul Lee said the “happiest and liveliest four days of each year” at Jaguar Karaoke occur during Golden Bear Orientation, or GBO. He added that the business has partnered with UC Berkeley as a nightlife program for the last three years, serving thousands of students during each GBO, but the partnership this year was canceled. However, Paul Lee hopes to provide karaoke nights for the community in the future.

Paul Lee said he hopes that he left a positive impact on students and was touched by the comments that students left on the GoFundMe page.

“There are many hurdles I have to overcome, such as finding financial support, getting help from landlords, making our store environment safe from COVID-19,” said Paul Lee in an email. “With potential help from friends, students, the city, and even from UC Berkeley, I’m relatively confident that we can reopen the business and continue to build fond memories together in the future.”

Contact Mela Seyoum at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @melaseyoum.