Local Bookstore Chain Opens Berkeley Branch

Photo: <b>Books, Inc.,<> an independent bookstore chain, opened a Berkeley branch on Fourth Street. Books, Inc. employees plan to rely on their knowledge and attentive customer service to compete with corporate and online retail.
Alexander Ritchie/Photo
Books, Inc.,<> an independent bookstore chain, opened a Berkeley branch on Fourth Street. Books, Inc. employees plan to rely on their knowledge and attentive customer service to compete with corporate and online retail.

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Despite the pressure of competing with larger bookstore chains and online sellers, the manager of Berkeley's newest independent bookstore, Books, Inc., hopes its commitment to customer service will help it stay in business.

San Francisco-based Books, Inc. opened its Berkeley location on Oct. 5, after it was approached by its current landlord, Denny Abrams, who wanted to open a bookstore on Fourth Street. Previously, Cody's Books occupied a nearby location on Fourth Street, before the chain closed last fall.

Calvin Crosby, manager of the Berkeley branch of Books, Inc., said Abrams gave them a deal on rent "good enough that we could afford to be here in this economy."

Books, Inc. was established in 1851, and Crosby added that the original owner of the chain sold books to miners who came to San Francisco during the California Gold Rush.

Sydney Hannan, a Books, Inc. employee, said the store and its employees are paying close attention to the Berkeley community's wants, including taking special orders and reviewing sales from the previous day to decide what books they will restock.

"We listen to our customers, we're willing to adapt as our customers' lives adapt," Crosby said.

He said in addition to the attentive services the staff provides, Books, Inc. will offer author appearances, writing workshops and a 10 percent discount for Berkeley students.

Michael Caplan, the city's economic development manager, said while Berkeley is a terrific market for books, smaller independent bookstores like Books, Inc. face structural challenges that make competing with online sellers difficult.

"Books are a commodity that can be bought online," he said. "Amazon.com and online sellers don't have to pay retail rent like a bookstore in a retail district."

Though they are competing with larger bookstore chains and online vendors, Crosby said the community stands to benefit from the level of dedication the bookstore and its knowledgeable staff bring to Berkeley.

"It's the difference between interacting with a person who knows books versus the internet and scrolling through Amazon," he said. "I would think you would want the interaction with the person."

Amy Thomas, owner of Pegasus and Pendragon Bookstores, said she believes smaller bookstores need to emphasize customer service when competing with larger bookstore chains and internet companies that offer discounts.

"You just have to make it worth the customer's while, make sure you're offering lots of good services and great books--books that they can't see just trolling on Web sites," she said.

She added that she believes Books, Inc. will "find a way to make it work."

Mark Fleming, manager of Half Price Books, said it will be a tough environment for newer small bookstores to open shop in Berkeley.

"They're closing down left and right," he said. "I think that there are so many new options now in the Internet and less and less books are being printed."

Crosby said that though the state of the economy makes managers at the bookstore nervous, they are confident their dedication to their customers will keep them in business.

"All the smaller bookstores that are thriving now are dedicated to putting the books in the customers' hands," he said. "And that's what we're trying to do."

Stephanie Baer of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Contact Melody Ng at [email protected]

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