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Cody's Closes
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Photo: Hemera
Cody’s Books opened on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, in 1956. It soon became a neighborhood cultural institution of the type that helps to give a community real character. While many cities are seeking local  businesses of this type to make the kind of ambiance that attracts creative and affluent people to urban neighborhoods, Cody’s is closing and Berkeley leaders are concerned.

This is really a historic shop. It is the place where Allen Ginsberg read his “howl” poem. Mario Savio was a student employee before he led the campus revolution of the 1960s. Salman Rushdie showed up unannounced and read from his work in defiance of a fatwa. Countless other discussion forums, lectures by authors and poetry readings made this more than just a place to buy books.

In recent years big-box stores like Borders have been causing the demise of many small, independent bookstores. The corporate influence has reached all the way to left-wing Berkeley where Cody’s owner—Andy Ross—told the New York Times last week that he has been losing money for years. He simply cannot afford to keep going.

Changing Times

The neighborhood has changed over the years and so has the campus. Today’s students are less interested in political action and social change, and more oriented toward success in business. The “mix of freedom and unpredictable grit” that has always marked Telegraph Avenue is beginning to mellow or at least be out of favor with new generations.

What local businesses shape the character of the neighborhood where you live? How are they impacted by changes in the economy and culture? What important values do they bring to your community, and how can those values be preserved and the character of the neighborhood protected or even strengthened? Those are questions that require neighbors to get together, talk through the issues and then take creative action. If everyone is too busy or too preoccupied with their own individual and family needs to ask these questions, then the day will come when important community institutions, just like Cody’s Books in Berkeley, will close in your neighborhood.

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