More bad news this week about the struggles of two Berkeley institutions, Black Oak Books and--the shocker--the Monterey Market, the locally famous produce market around the corner from my house.
It wasn't a surprise to read that Black Oak finally closed the store on North Shattuck over the weekend. The new owner seems to have made valiant efforts to keep it going. Every time I've wandered in, the picture has looked more bleak. I've read there are plans to have a makeshift store on San Pablo, site of the warehouse, while they search for another retail location. Amazon is to blame, according to the owner. Especially after the recent vote that continues to exempt online sellers from paying sales tax in California. Brick-and-mortar stores just can't compete, even in an indie-loving town like Berkeley, apparently.
But the Monterey Market controversery took me by surprise.
We've lived around the corner since we moved to Berkeley from Chicago 12 years ago. I used to wander the aisles like a tourist, enchanted by the exotic displays of potatoes, mushrooms, chili peppers--and people. As much as anything else, the Monterey Market defined the quirky charm of my new home town. We do most of our shopping there. When people ask where I live, I always say, "Oh, right around the corner from the Monterey Market." Most people don't even recognize the name of my obscure little street, but everyone knows the Market.
I was shocked to come home to an e-mail message from our neighborhood organization on Wednesday. Trouble had been brewing for awhile, apparently. It's a family run business, founded by the parents of the current group of owners. Bill and Judy Fujimoto, the much loved couple who have run the place for 20 years, are centers of the local small farms movement.
There has been trouble on the board. Bill and Judy Fujimoto are leaving/being forced out, depending on how you look at it. Some high profile restaurant people are suggesting a boycott.
My husband and I walked over on Wednesday after work. It had been announced as the final day for the departing couple. A crowd of supporters were gathered around them, spilling from the sidewalk onto the street. Some folks had set up a table, with a giant good-bye poster for signing. A couple of Berkeley police were on hand, since the street was partly blocked.
No picket lines, so we went inside. The store wasn't empty--but the crowd was sparse, especially for that time of day. Some customers were offering encouragement to the staff at the registers--hushed questions like "How is your day going?" Everyone kind of knows everyone. It is like a big family--and a dysfunctional one, I guess.
I don't know the inside story so I don't want to judge. But it's very sad.
You can read about it here, in a blog by the SF Chronicle food writer Michael Bauer.
Causes Blair Kilpatrick Supports
Louisiana Folk Roots, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Habitat for Humanity/Musician's Village New Orleans, Doctors Without Borders