Letters for the week of August 23-26, 2006 

The problem was attitude. The problem was customers. The problem was ethics. The problem was Berkeley.

"What Killed Cody's?" Feature, 8/2

Attitude, not Amazon
With all this Sturm und Drang about Cody's closing, I find myself thinking, "Thank God it wasn't Moe's, or even worse, Pegasus!" What killed Cody's for me was not homeless or other kinds of street people, the ridiculous lack of parking in that part of the world, or Amazon.com. It was attitude! Okay, burn me at the stake, but in six out of ten dealings with the staff at Cody's I ended up feeling like it was beneath their dignity to be of any help to me. And yes, the prices were pretty high, but I have always been able to pony up the dough to pay new cover prices at Pegasus. The difference was that I feel welcome at Pegasus. My dollars go to polite and friendly people. Bookstores take note: Amazon won't take your customers — attitude will!
Geonni Banner, Point Richmond

Follow the money
The article states that "When street mayhem broke out on Telegraph several years ago, the thieves stole shoes, scooters, CDs. No one looted the bookshops." It wasn't respect that preserved the bookstores. Thieves steal what they can use and sell. If bookstores had been looted, Cody's still would be in business.

Instead of Kant, Andy Ross should read Voltaire's Candide. Andy is an innocent blissfully ignorant of the real world beyond his liberal clichés. If Andy were mugged, he would blame society, not the mugger. Customers don't. They shop where there are fewer muggers, like Fourth Street. Andy is a decent, honorable human being who wouldn't hurt a soul. I hope he doesn't lose his house, but he should be teaching a course on Zen or on the evils of capitalism rather than running a business.
Daniel H. Brown, Emeryville

Greater efficiency?
Momentarily setting aside questions of social philosophy or metaphysics, let's consider the physical reality of Cody's Telegraph, on the site of a former Shell gas station. It's a huge horizontal and vertical space, with a fair amount of the vertical unused. The children's section alone, with its own window and where I've seen very few kids at a time (the avenue isn't much of a children's paradise), is likely the size of some entire bookshops in London, Paris, Tokyo, or San Francisco that necessarily use all their vertical space. Contrast this with, say, the multilevel design of Moe's.

Anneli Rufus mentions the idea of shrinking the store, asking, "what's better: a smaller, sparser operation, or a dead one?" I don't think sparser. Probably denser and more solidly packed. But although I haven't heard much discussion of this idea, it must've been a possibility that Andy Ross had to decide against.
Sandy Rothman, Berkeley

Back-door man
Andy Ross kills off flagship Cody's bookstore with the "high overhead," opens two new Cody's stores with reduced labor costs, and has authors and politicians licking his hands. It's puzzling. I remember sitting across from Cody's at the break of dawn photographing his employees hosing down anyone near the bookstore in a sleeping bag. In those days I thought the police, the politicians, and the people would care. People, including your writer, refuse to see the calculating person huddled under the banner of a principled business others built. The scion of Ross department stores' allegiance to profit is what governs his decisions. It seems appropriate that on the last day he had to creep out the back door.
Carol Denney, Berkeley

Good riddance
I started reading "What Killed Cody's?" with a sense of sadness. But then the article reminded me what Cody's stood for. Part of the low sales were due to UCB students who now have "no spare time for rioting." A guest speaker there "nominated executed killer Stanley 'Tookie' Williams for the Nobel Prize." I have outgrown such juvenile antics and respect for depravity. So thanks for brightening up my day. No longer sad, I exclaimed aloud, "Good riddance."
Sam Walters, Oakland

Life beyond Cody's
I want to thank Anneli Rufus for doing a tremendous and thorough job on recording the demise of Cody's and Telegraph Avenue. I recently drove up and down the West Coast, and everywhere I went people mourned the loss of Cody's. I admit, I too got tired of the hassle of being asked for change, an average of seven times between parking my car near Andronico's and making the hike up to Cody's, sometimes very aggressively.

It's totally heartbreaking to lose the place where I discovered weird little magazines as a teenager and met great authors like Kathleen Norris and Sherman Alexie. But today I needed some nonmainstream literature, so for the first time, I ventured out of my Telegraph Avenue comfort zone and found my way to MLK Jr. Way and the wonderful Afrocentric Marcus Books. The owner was helpful and positive, and there was ample parking in the neighborhood. I also discovered Walden Pond Books on Grand Avenue where I found plenty of radical literature to satisfy me, and at good prices. (Not to leave out the other great stores like Moe's, Diesel, etc.)

So there is life beyond Cody's for eccentric bibliophiles like myself, but these places will go the way of Cody's if they are not supported. So this Walnut Creek person is saying, make the effort and keep your local independent bookstores alive!
Michaela Brasesco, Walnut Creek

A Boomer's lament
During the '60s and '70s, the "Young Turks" of the college campus thought themselves wiser than their elders, and demanded of the administration and the professors the right to dictate the terms of their own education. One upshot of this was that the great classical writers, such as Plutarch, Marcus Aurelius, Tacitus, and Cicero, were assigned to the basement of the educational system. Their brilliant, if somewhat conservative messages were abandoned in favor of smarmy populists of the moment and selfish hedonism. But the moment fades, and so does the transient populist. However, the destructive changes to the educational system remained in place. The wisdom of some of the greatest minds in history is now all but forgotten. The Boomers created a society where you can find out the facts on everything, but understand the true value of nothing. That the Critique of Pure Reason was left unsold on Cody's shelves is the predictable result of the denigration of Classical Studies. Nature abhors a vacuum. Where there is no Socrates, that is where you will find the fundamentalist wax strong. You think Shakespeare is dull? Wait until you get a load of nonstop "Jesus saves."

We live in a country founded on principles of freedom but where wisdom is allowed to die, said freedom will accompany her to the grave. A dirge for Cody's may bode one for us as well. "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold." (William who? Never heard of him. Oh well, who cares?)

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