Small Businesses in Downtown Struggle to Stay Open

Photo: Many small businesses in Downtown Berkeley are either struggling to remain open or have been forced to close, being hit hard by the slow economy and high rent costs.
Summer Dunsmore/Staff
Many small businesses in Downtown Berkeley are either struggling to remain open or have been forced to close, being hit hard by the slow economy and high rent costs.


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Correction Appended

Update: Pizzavore opened temporarily before lease negotiations failed at the beginning of the year and the shop closed for good.

The closing of Pie in the Sky at the end of last year marked yet another closure of a small business in Downtown Berkeley.

The pizzeria, formerly located on Center Street, was hit hard by the dip in the economy, according to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, a problem he said many small businesses in Berkeley have been facing.

Arreguin said Pie in the Sky was sold with the intention to collaborate with the new owners, who would change the pizzeria's name to Pizzavore - as well as hire new management - while maintaining some of the original menu.

Pizzavore opened for a short time until it was temporarily closed for remodeling. However, when the new owners could not reach an affordable

rent agreement with landlords, the pizzeria never opened back up after the remodel.

"Small businesses are being charged too much," he said. "That is why we have so many empty storefronts."

Arreguin added that the Downtown area has one of the highest vacancy rates in the city.

Pie in the Sky was not alone in struggling to stay afloat this past year as it joined the ranks of other closed businesses, such as Bowzer's Pizza, Caffe Giovanni, The Bake Shop and Amanda's Restaurant - all of which were located Downtown.

"Rather than charging less, landlords have kept these places vacant, which takes away from our community," Arreguin said.

Robert Gaustad, owner of Bobby G's Pizzeria on University Avenue, said landlords in the area are not adjusting rents to suit small businesses during these difficult economic times.

"Landlords in Berkeley are hanging on to the highest rents that they possibly can, even in the face of reality, which shows that a lot of people can't afford these rents," Gaustad said.

The current trend of small businesses struggling may very well continue as more chains, which can afford the higher rents, open up shop in the city, Arreguin said.

"On Cedar and Shattuck, the 'mom and pop' Elephant Pharmacy has closed and been turned into a Walgreens," he said.

Polly Armstrong, co-CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, said the frequent closing and opening of small businesses is normal for the city. She added that several new businesses, like Sportivo, which is located on Center, have recently moved into the Downtown area.

"There will always be an inevitable flow of restaurants," Armstrong said. "This has been a rough time, but I sense hope. We are going to miss the places that closed, but I am not discouraged because with the new places, Downtown is going to be an evermore exciting place to be."

Still, Arreguin said high rent in Downtown is a serious problem. He hopes that the community will continue to support small businesses - instead of big corporations - and that landlords will begin to negotiate reasonable rent.

Tags: BERKELEY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, DOWNTOWN BERKELEY, JESSE ARREGUIN, CENTER STREET, PIE IN THE SKY, PIZZAVORE, BOBBY G'S PIZZERIA

Correction: Thursday, February 3, 2011
A previous version of this article stated that Bobby G's Pizzeria was on Shattuck Avenue. In fact, it is on University Avenue.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Jasmine Mausner at [email protected]



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