The Da Vinci Cody’s

Cody’s, a landmark, 43-year-old indie bookstore in Berkeley, is closing July 10 due to declining sales (thanks, Saheli). It was attacked during the Satanic Verses fatwa in 1989:

Cody’s Books, Berkeley, California was firebombed about 4:30 a.m. when a pipe bomb was hurled through a back window just thirty seconds before a similar attack occurred at a nearby Waldenbooks store. One of the world’s finest general bookstores, Cody’s was bombed just fourteen days after Khomeini [issued a fatwa against Salman Rusdhie]… During the cleanup another bomb was found on the floor in the poetry section of the store. The owner of the store… stood across the street while the bomb squad worked with the bomb and as it exploded. [Link]

… the store announced that it would continue to sell Salman Rushdie’s controversial “Satanic Verses” — a decision that Ross called “our finest hour.” [Link]

Rushdie was pithy as ever:

“Rushdie came to the store once, a surprise visit when he was still in hiding,” Ross said. The author gave the bookstore 5-minutes notice to announce that he was in the store and would sign books. “There’s a hole above the information desk from the bombing. Someone scribbled ‘Salman Rushdie memorial hole.’ When Rushdie was here, he looked up and said, ‘Some people get statues, others get holes.’ ” [Link]

Cody’s blames the closure on competition from online textbook and academic bookstores and the general decline of Telegraph Ave., a street which rocks out with revolutionary flava but isn’t all that safe at night.

The owner of Cal students’ favorite head shop plumbing supply store said:

“Sales are horrible right now,” said Al Geyer, founder of Annapurna, an eclectic store that’s been on Telegraph since 1968 and offers an array of goods ranging from pipes to spiritual music to sex toys. “I don’t think anybody is making any money.” [Link]

Reasons cited include crime, litter, homelessness, the mainstreaming of tokin’ supplies and sex toys, and the growth of lame, overpriced on-campus retail. Progressive bookstores are still businesses, and they ding the city council’s tolerance for broken windows:

“The city has let Telegraph slip… It used to be cool and hip and the center of the city, but people don’t want to come here anymore…”

“They have their heads in the sand… They’re stuck in their own ideology.” … he cited the ongoing problem of People’s Park [owned by the university], which, he says, attracts homeless people who discourage shoppers from coming to the area. He said the city has treated it solely as a social problem, ignoring the crime and quality-of-life implications… At the same time, he said, the city reduced the number of police patrols on Telegraph because of budget cuts. [Link]

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p>The city of Berkeley was never very good at tackling crime without gentrifying. When I was a Cal student, I kept hearing of drunken, 5’6″ college friends getting mugged by 5’11″ 15-year-olds from Oakland. One evening I moved into a ground floor apartment close to Telegraph; the next morning I arrived at my new place bright and early, just in time to see someone sleeping on my bed, in my clothes. Startled, he bounded away through the bedroom window. He was welcome to my tie-dyes and butterfly collars. I moved again the same day.

Cody’s two other, smaller stores — on Fourth Street in Berkeley and on Stockton Street in San Francisco — will remain open. [Link]

Cody’s eclectic selection has always been cool, but in school I was always too far behind to read much for fun. These days, kids in the know buy their textbooks from India. Blame Crossword for Cody’s coda.

Related post: Insourcing

19 thoughts on “The Da Vinci Cody’s

  1. I’ve never been to Cody’s (Amoeba is my one-stop-shop for spending ludicrous amounts of money in Berkeley) but I’m sure the city isn’t better off with the shuttering of another independent book store (both Shambhala and Avenue Books all closed down within the last two years). Menlo Park’s venerated Kepler’s was able to stave off bankruptcy with help from the community and some angel investors, but I’ve read that Andy Ross, the owner of Cody’s, isn’t open to outside help.

    Bonus desi angle: Cody’s is hosting author Shashi Tharoor on May 13th.

  2. Manish!

    As a Berkeley alum, your blog has moved me to tears… so many memories!! As I was reading your description of Telegraph Ave, I felt like I was taking a stroll down memory lane.

    Cody’s rocked, but I personally liked the used bookstores, like Shakespeare and Co. and Paegus’. Still, I will mourn the death of Cody’s– that’s where I used to go to read the books and magazines for free; and if I liked the books enough, I’d cross the street to Shakespeare and Co. and buy it for half the price.

    Speaking of Berkeley, you should do a piece on University Ave. Lots of good material there.

  3. Bonus desi angle: Cody’s is hosting author Shashi Tharoor on May 13th.

    Then it’s a good thing that Cody’s will be shut down soon.

  4. Noooooo!

    This is truly, truly a shame. Visiting Cody’s is one of my fondest memories of being at Berkeley. They had some amazing readings, including a fair share of South Asian authors. I remember going to Hari Kunzru, Isabel Allende, Zadie Smith, and of course, Jhumpa Lahiri, among others.

    And it’s true– Telegraph has become more and more shady as the years have gone by. That’s so sad as well, especially because Southside is so tied into the campus as a whole.

    Ah, Berkeley! Thanks for the news (as well as the little trip of nostalgia). This way I won’t have a heart attack when I finally make it back to up the Bay and see a large empty spot where Cody’s used to be =(.

  5. Revive Telegraph! Where else can I read all those racist and derogatory bumper stickers while taking a casual stroll?

  6. I love Cody’s and am a huge independent books fan, but I think blaming the issue on homelessness, and then by extension, on the “inherent crime it attracts” is misleading. I’ve lived in the area (and been a Cody’s customer) for over six years, and I don’t feel more/less safe than I did in the past. I also don’t feel that there are any more homeless people on the streets than there normally are, and I definitely haven’t heard anything about an increased number of muggings (in fact, the opposite – less violent crime on Telegraph, more crime in the hills/dark areas of campus).

    Is Cody’s losing sales from tourism and out of Berkeley customers? Probably. I personally avoid Telegraph on the weekends because it’s a tourist zoo, but maybe people are window shopping more and buying less. Further, rents on Telegraph have been going through the roof, and business turnover has been high. The infamous Gap has even closed its doors for good, as has Bath and Body Works, both because of declining sales and increased rent costs.

    In terms of the drop of student sales, I feel like the answer is more complicated. I’m more inclined to say (although I have no proof) that students simply can’t afford Cody’s; their books are priced at retail value. With fees and text book prices going up (and consequently, the total cost of attendance) while financial aid is cut and our work burdens increased, who has time a) to read for pleasure, and b) to pay (comparably) through the nose for the same books you can find elsewhere? Even for those of us who want to support independent shops, it’s not within our price capability. And it’s not just a “feel good/suck it up” issue – most of my friends are thousands of dollars in debt and are skipping meals on a regular basis just to make monthly rent and tuition payments.

    So in short, I’m really sad to see Cody’s go, and I wonder what this indicates for the other Telegraph independent bookstores (Moe’s, Shakespeare Books, Revolution Books).

  7. ahh..telegraph.. blondies pizza comes to mind..

    speaking of bookstores.. an amazing one is in portland, oregon….powells…what a store!

  8. The closing of Cody’s on Telegraph will be a real loss; it’s one of the best general-interest independent bookstores in the country, and a Bay Area landmark. Cody’s has hosted a huge number of Desi writers over the years; I’ve been to readings by David Davidar, Hari Kunzru, Bharati Mukherjee, Chitra Divakaruni, Jhumpa Lahiri, Salman Rushdie, Manil Suri, and probably a few others I don’t remember. (More reminiscing over at the BookFinder.com Journal…)

  9. Camille Pannu

    I love Cody’s and am a huge independent books fan, but I think blaming the issue on homelessness, and then by extension, on the “inherent crime it attracts” is misleading.

    I agree with you. Anytime something goes awry in Berkeley, most point the finger at the homeless.

    Manish: For your next blog, can you do a comparative sociological study on the urban spaces of Telegraph Ave. vs. Piedmonte Ave? I think that both streets embody Berkeley’s double personality, ie “leftist hippy” and “posh bourgeouisie”. Most people like to think of Berkeley as a flower-power-girlchild-of-nature leftist outfit, but this is not so. Look at Piedmonte Ave and others areas in that vicinity. Sure, Piedmonte Ave is lefty!!

  10. in school I was always too far behind to read much for fun

    Haha yea… I really discovered Cody’s after grad and moving away. Of the few books I’ve read since then, or gifts for close people, most have been found by strolling around in there. Something inspirational about the way they have things set up, or something. Anyway, yea it’s tragic, but thanks for the warning.

  11. Rushdie, “pithy as ever”? Have you not READ any of his works? If a sentence can’t be convoluted and borderline stream-of-consciousness, it’s not worth putting down on paper ;)

  12. If a sentence can’t be convoluted and borderline stream-of-consciousness, it’s not worth putting down on paper ;)

    Lemme guess, you drink Coors Light ;)

  13. ANNA! the toad tunnel! c’mon you UCD alumna! Speaking of “berkeley-ness” though, this weekend is the Whole Earth Festival in UCD. I, sadly/thankfully, am not there.

  14. Cody’s was the only place on Telegraph, maybe the only place in Berkeley, that offered a free bathroom to anyone, customer or not.

    They were just like that.

    Their selection of independent titles, poetry, zines and magazines is unmatched by any bookstore.

    They used to spread the joy by pumping classical music via outdoor speakers onto telegraph avenue late at night (after closing). A very nice sound.

    Most of the homeless people are mentally ill or substance abusers or runaway kids who think it’s cool to be homeless. If we put more effort into substance abuse and care for the poor mentally ill I think it would stop homelessness. You can get 3 free meals a day in Berkeley, free living quarters, free job training, free showers and still there are homeless people. Something is wrong.