Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cody's & De Lauer's

It has been a rough week for readers in the East Bay with the closure of two local, long-standing retailers of the written word: De Lauer's and Cody's. De Lauer's was the rare 24-hour Bay Area newsstand, located in downtown Oakland for over century. I remember going there as a child awestruck at the variety of publications spanning the globe. Oakland's downtown has not, for a while, been known for its vibrancy but De Lauer's always felt alive and current. 101 years is a good run, but it's still sad to see such a store disappear from the streetscape and unlikely to be replaced by anything comparable as long as reading patterns change and people, like me, increasingly read online rather than on paper.
The demise of Cody's comes as less of a surprise given its recent sale and frenetic moving--off Telegraph, off Fourth, on to Shattuck, momentarily, and now shuttered altogether. It failed to last as long as De Lauer's but its impression on Bay Area readers was no less profound. It was a decidedly intellectual bookstore, which isn't to say that it was stuffy or snooty, but that it took seriously ideas, books, writers, and above all, readers. Over time Cody's occupied four different locations, but the Telegraph store was the most famous--it anchored one of America's great blocks of bookstores--and is perhaps best known for having been firebombed after displaying in its windows Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses."
What we're losing in the closing of these stores is not a good place to buy a book or newspaper--news and books have never been so accessible to so many, and we should celebrate the forces that have made it so.
What we're losing, instead, is an aesthetic and communal experience that enriched Oakland and Berkeley and those who inhabited and visited the cities, and I'm not sure what, if anything, replaces these spaces in the cityscape.
UPDATE: The news of De Lauer's death was greatly exaggerated. Actually, it wasn't exaggerated, but evidently the store has been temporarily resuscitated by people in the community. The article also notes that De Lauer's may be the only 24-hour newsstand in the country.