Last Day on Telegraph For Iconic Bookstore

Contact Conor Christofferson at [email protected]





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During its 43-year run, Cody's Books on Telegraph Avenue has been a Berkeley institution, serving both students and community members and hosting readings from world-renowned authors.

But today Cody's will close its doors for the last time.

Citing a 15-year downward trend in profits, Cody's owner Andy Ross said he can no longer afford to keep his flagship location open.

Ross will concentrate on running Cody's other locations on 4th street in Berkeley and Stockton Street in San Francisco."

"It's tough," said Ross. "I just cannot make this store work any longer."

Known as one of the premier academic bookstores in America, Cody's has hosted some of the world's most well-known and influential authors, including Nobel Prize winners, poet laureates and presidents.

"If your publisher will only send you one place, you pick Cody's," said Joyce Jenkins, who has held her Poetry Flash reading series at Cody's since the early 1980's.

Jenkins, who was an employee at Cody's in the 1970's, believes Berkeley has lost more than just a bookstore.

"Cody's was a cultural destination," she said. "It's really sad that it couldn't continue."

Since its founding, Cody's has not shied away from controversy.

In 1989, the store was bombed for carrying Salman Rushdie's incendiary novel, The Satanic Verses, after which staff voted unanimously to continue selling the book, knowing their lives could be at risk.

"It was my proudest moment," Ross said. "The business of ideas is a very dangerous business."

Rushdie, who had been in hiding after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him, made a surprise visit to Cody's after the bombing.

"Fifteen minutes before he got here we were alerted," Ross said. "He came in and signed some books. It was great."

When Rushdie arrived, Ross showed him a hole left over from the bombing where an employee had written, "the Salman Rushdie memorial hole." According to Ross, Rushdie responded by saying, "Some people get statues and I guess some people get holes."

Award-winning writer and UC Berkeley English professor emeritus Maxine Hong Kingston also has a long history with Cody's.

"I discovered it when I was a freshman at Cal," Kingston said. "Ever since then it has given me sustenance as a reader and a writer. What a miracle that I myself became a writer-and read at Cody's."

Pictures of some of the thousands of authors that have read at Cody's hang on the walls of the second floor reading room, which, combined with a capacity crowd, can be an intimidating and awe-inspiring sight for first-time readers, according to Jenkins.

"The power of that room was something that people really felt," said Jenkins, who remembers the excitement of attending a reading by Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz. "It was easy to be transported and attentive at Cody's."

Readings were often so crowded that audience members would spill over and have to hover between bookshelves or on stairwells to try to catch a glimpse of the featured writer.

Berkeley resident Kenneth Johnson, a longtime Cody's patron and nearby street vendor, said he counts on the foot traffic that an iconic store like Cody's brings.

"Cody's is an immutable fixture," said Johnson, who sells CDs outside of the store. "It's shocking and unfortunate that it will no longer be here."

Although Cody's on Telegraph will no longer be open, Ross is hopeful that the qualities that made it a cultural destination can be passed on to his other stores.

"We're going to bring the spirit of Telegraph to our other locations," Ross said. "But if people don't buy scholarly books you can say goodbye to scholarly bookstores."

On Sunday, hundreds of spectators gathered at Cody's to mourn its departure and to celebrate its 50-year run, the first seven of which were spent on Euclid Ave. in North Berkeley. Former owner Pat Cody stood with current owner Ross and shared memories with the audience.

"We've come to the end of our 43-year journey on Telegraph Avenue," Ross said.

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