‘More than just a workplace’: University Press Books to close after 46 years

university press books closing
Michael Burton/Courtesy

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A popular bookstore specializing in texts from university presses, University Press Books on Bancroft Way is closing its doors after 46 years.

In addition to academic titles, University Press Books carried “quality fiction and creative nonfiction,” according to its website. Co-founder and owner William McClung previously told The Daily Californian he envisioned the store as a place for people to interact both socially and intellectually. 

Since the start of the shelter-in-place order, University Press Books has been operating as an online store with book recommendations sorted by themes such as “Remembering,” “Empirical Explorations” and “Relating to Each Other — or Not.”

When asked for their memories of the bookstore, longtime customers recalled its wealth of author events and book clubs and said it was an inviting place to browse and discuss books.

“I started going regularly when they had group meetings about Marcel Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ back about nine years ago, and we had meetings every two weeks,” said customer Ken Knabb. “It’s really long, several volumes, and we took four years doing that.”

Knabb went on to lead his own book club centered on a series of classic novels such as “Don Quixote” and “Madame Bovary” at University Press Books.

He said McClung took part in their sessions, often ordering food from the Musical Offering Café next door.

“The back room (of the bookstore) was just a wonderful place to meet,” Knabb said. “There were a lot of great people who would show up, so I’ve met dozens of new friends that way who I’m still friends with.”

Jane Hu, a campus English graduate student, recalled a sense of community and respect. She added that even if the bookstore wasn’t open yet, customers were allowed to walk in, reminding her of a library.

Hu said University Press Books felt like an extension of the English department, with faculty members often hosting their book launches there. She said the bookstore was particularly reliable at supplying books written by campus professors and those required for UC Berkeley courses.

The bookstore was “smart and accessible at once,” according to campus English graduate student Ryan Lackey.

“It seemed unpretentious in both directions, uninterested either in snootiness or a performance of so-called relatability,” Lackey said in an email.

According to store co-manager Sorayya Carr, increasing rent and payroll costs made the store’s operations unsustainable.

Other business challenges included changes in consumer expectations driven by online retailers such as Amazon and scholarly publishers raising book prices in response to their own financial stresses, Carr added.

“We will miss being surrounded by these wonderful books, we will miss our loyal customers, some of whom have been with us since the store began, and we will miss each other,” Carr said in an email. “More than just a workplace, this bookstore has been a big part of our lives.”

Contact Jessica Li at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLi57