Local Antique Bookstore Could Close

Photo: Serendipity Books may close after decades of service, leaving collectors worried about the potential impact on the antique book market.
Eddie Rosenbaum/Photo
Serendipity Books may close after decades of service, leaving collectors worried about the potential impact on the antique book market.

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With the "cornerstone" of Berkeley's rare and antique book market facing closure, many local book collectors say they are on edge.

Serendipity Books, located on University Avenue, has played an influential role in Berkeley's antiquarian book niche for decades. However, due to the deteriorating health of the store's owner, Peter Howard, many local book collectors say they are concerned about what will happen if the store closes.

So far, community members say no one has stepped forward to take over the business.

"The closure of Serendipity Books will be a horrible loss for the book trade of Northern California," said Anthony Bliss, a curator of rare books and literary manuscripts at Bancroft Library. "Moe's and Shakespeare and Co. will not be able to fill the hole that Serendipity Books will leave because neither of them have the same sources, space or capital that Peter Howard did."

Fellow antiquarian book suppliers expressed mixed views about the future of rare books in Berkeley should the store close.

"There is a fair (amount) of interest in the antiquarian book industry, but right now it's a tough economy for this retail endeavor, and we have taken a hit although we're still hanging in there," said Elliot Lavine, an employee of Moe's Books on Telegraph Avenue.

Charles Morris, an employee of Shakespeare and Co. Books on Telegraph Avenue, said there is already limited support for rare and antique books in Berkeley.

"Antiquarian books are not the bread and butter of our bookstore. There is a market for them, but most antiquarian books are very pricey and sit in our store for a very long time," he said. "I'm sorry that Serendipity Books is closing, but I hope that it helps the sale of rare books at my business."

Local book collectors said they are interested in the store's collection but have made no formal negotiations with Howard at this time.

Howard declined to comment.

"We wouldn't be buying any of Howard's collection in bulk. However, he is still offering us small collections, and we are buying those," said Bonnie Bearden, acquisitions supervisor of Bancroft Library.

Lavine said he is not sure if Moe's will buy any part of Howard's collection because the books have been selling rapidly.

Losing the store's owner would be especially harmful to Berkeley's antiquarian book market because of his experience in the market, said Peter Hanff, deputy director of Bancroft Library.

"(Howard) was the former president of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America and has approximately one million volumes of antiquarian books, the largest stock of antiquarian books in the Bay Area," Hanff said. "He is knowledgeable in all areas of books, from 15th century manuscripts to papers of well-known authors and records of businesses and organizations."

Howard has worked closely with the Bancroft Library for decades and looks for collections that might be of interest to the library, according to Bearden.

Without Howard, the campus book collection might suffer because the library will have to look elsewhere for its books, Bliss said.

"You can't take out a cornerstone and expect the industry to be as strong," he said.


Contact Gabby Fastiggi at [email protected]

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