Local Businesses Feel Strain of Slowing Economy

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Stores in the Telegraph Avenue area that had become fixtures of Southside are closing, changing the look of the internationally known shopping district.

The chairs outside Wall Berlin are gone, and so are the black-clad street people who used to hang out in front of the coffee shop. Or at least they've moved across the street.

The cafe was a popular destination for students studying late at night because it served up strong brew into the early-morning hours.

But it closed three weeks ago for financial reasons, according to managers of surrounding businesses.

Joe Mellin, a UC Berkeley sophomore, said Wall Berlin had a positive impact on the Berkeley area and would be missed.

"It was definitely a landmark. It gave the town a more alternative feel," Mellin said.

And today the recessionary economy, as well as other factors contributing to slowing business, claims another victim as Sam & Libby, the women's shoe store on Telegraph Avenue, closes its doors for good.

Octopus, across Durant Avenue from Wall Berlin, is closing, forcing patrons to turn elsewhere for their shiny, ostentatious, "clubbing" clothes and novelty sex toys.

Store owners in the area said business has been slow for several months and that the recession, combined with the impact of a boycott of stores in Berkeley, has slowly squeezed more and more shops out of the area.

The boycott, which some dispute even exists, stems from last fall's City Council decision to oppose bombing in Afghanistan, which drew negative attention from across the country.

While the entire Sam & Libby franchise is closing, assistant manager Dartagnan Hadden said the boycott had made sales in Berkeley particularly low.

"Business was slow for a month and a half-real slow," Hadden said. "That (boycott) helped I think. That added to it for sure."

While Wall Berlin had been struggling before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the national recession and the boycott are said to have been the straws that broke the camel's back.

But some UC students are glad to see Wall Berlin close.

"This is what happens to businesses when they let gutter trash hang around outside and not buy anything," said Jonathan Flomerfelt, a junior anthropology major.

Adam Zolkover, a junior history major, said the coffee shop "got what was coming to it," because it had "shitty coffee."

Some have described the slow sales as the worst they have been in a long time, and as Councilmember Kriss Worthington pointed out, many stores in the area have been vacant.

Kathy Berger, executive director of the Telegraph Area Association, attributes the slowdown in business to students' low expendable income resulting from high costs for housing in Berkeley.

She said the city needs to "market itself better as a regional shopping area."

But Councilmember Dona Spring said people are attracted to the area more for its counterculture. She also downplayed the significance of the boycott, saying "most boycotters are from the east and south-people who wouldn't be coming to Berkeley normally."

Worthington concurred, saying, "There is very little evidence that there is a boycott. There are no statistics that show that Berkeley is suffering more than the Bay Area or the nation."

Nevertheless, the City Council approved a plan Tuesday night to "promote Berkeley businesses" by adding a link on the city's Web site to a directory of businesses in the city that sell products over the Internet.

The resolution, aimed at helping people across the country "affirmatively patronize" local stores, had been held over from a council meeting last fall, when talk of a boycott and solutions to it were contentious issues.

Worthington said, however, that the city is not doing enough to attract businesses.


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