Tag Archives: barnes & noble oakland closed

Walden Pond Books – Oakland’s Oldest Bookstore

I’m starting with Walden Pond Books because they’re the oldest and, I believe with the Barnes & Noble now gone (see Friday’s post), also the largest independent bookstore in Oakland.

Let’s begin…

in·de·pend·ent [in-di-pen-duhnt] –adj

1.  not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself: an independent thinker.
2.  not subject to another’s authority or jurisdiction; autonomous; free: an independent businessperson.

chain [cheyn] –n

1.  a series of objects connected one after the other…
2.  often, chains, something that binds or restrains…

These definitions, mounted on a homespun poster decorated in multi-colored magic markers, announce your arrival at Walden Pond Books, an Oakland family owned and operated bookstore since 1973.  That’s 37 years people!  Pretty impressive, especially in the age of Amazon and national chains like Barnes & Borders.  They must be doing something right…

grand lake bookstore, oakland independent bookstores

Located at 3316 Grand Avenue, the store certainly benefits from the pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, a stone’s throw from the Grand Lake Theater and the Saturday Farmers’ Market.  But it’s more than just location that has kept this store alive.  Walden Pond’s got personality, in exactly the fashion you’d expect from your local community bookstore.

You’re first greeted by the bins of cheap books seemingly spilling out of the store onto the sidewalk… hardcovers and paperbacks all priced between $1 – 3, and if you buy any three,  you get one free.  Talk about a bargain! These are great to peruse while you’re killing time waiting for your movie… I did exactly this awhile back and came across a book on just the subject I was interested in at the time, for a single dollar.  It would have cost me ten times that on Amazon, even used.

cheap books, walden pond books

independent vs. chain, independent book stores

As you enter the store, you’re introduced to their progressive (and leftist) leanings, broadcast through posters & fliers filling the windows surrounding the entryway… statistics about life expectancy discrepancies between affluent whites in Oakland vs. poorer blacks in West Oakland… a United States flag with a peace symbol replacing the 50 stars…  calls for activism and accountability within the community… and then their “Declaration of Independents.”  This is so fantastic, I have to repeat it in full here (boldface added by me):

Declaration of Independents

As cities, towns , and neighborhoods deal with the changing landscape of their local business community, we, the independent booksellers of California, reaffirm our commitment to our communities.

Independent bookstores value our place in the community, as well as our ongoing connections within it.  We’d like to offer some other defining thoughts about independent bookstores.

Independent booksellers talk with our customers directly and enjoy fulfilling – even exceeding – their expectations, whether it’s recommending a great book we’ve just read, or helping you discover new or little-known authors or publishers.

Independent bookstores have an onsite owner – we’re right there answering questions and making decisions, rather than relying on a corporate office thousands of miles away.

Independent booksellers are leaders in the fight against censorship and other threats to freedom of expression.

Independent bookstores reflect the character of our communities.  We support local causes.  We participate in and fund community activities.  We patronize other local businesses and keep our money in the community.

And this really is the crux of the buy local movement… making personal choices based upon criteria less tangible, but no less relevant, than simply the cheapest price.  And it’s part of what keeps stores like Walden Pond viable.  Value beyond price point.

The store is family run, by father and son. Marshall Curatolo opened it in 1973 on Grand Avenue and 2 locations later, all within half a block of each other, has grown the business from just himself to 10 employees. His son Paul joined ship when he was just 7 years old, helping dad to help make signs and shelve books. Now manager of Walden Pond after 35 years, Paul says, “This creates a very unique and treasured entity, with a history, that is tied to the ebbs and flows of this community. We know you, we remember you, we care about you. We are here for you, to keep literature ALIVE and bring good books to future generations. Not just to make $$$.”

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Walden Pond Books, oakland bookstores

I asked about the challenges in today’s economic marketplace, fighting for dollars seemingly destined for the big boys, who simply can’t be beat on price.  Walden Pond’s answer is to maintain “impeccable customer service, offer timely special ordering, and have a great/knowledgeable staff.  Also the emphasis on handselling, putting the right book in your hand.”  A book in the hand is worth two whizzing through cyberspace!

And this strategy clearly pays off.  Rated just under 5 stars on Yelp, customers consistently praise the store for its laid back vibe & super knowledgable staff, who can help you find what you’re looking for amidst their comprehensive new & used library, or at the very least, order it with a one day turnaround.

western religion, mark twain

oakland independent bookstores

I asked how they differentiate themselves and Paul said, “We excel at many genres , both new and used.  Our Literature/Fiction sections, new and used Mysteries and Science Fiction, great sale books, wonderful greeting card selection, a stellar children’s selection, excellent Minority Studies and History sections are some of our mainstays.”  And a relatively recent addition is their Rare Book Room, curated by Bob Fisher, also known for his sci-fi knowledge, among other genres.

mystery books, east bay independent bookstores

used children's books, east bay independent bookstores

Walden Pond Books, independent bookstore

So I’m going to be repeating this mantra for the next week or so. Get used to it. Embrace it. Act on it. “Support your local independent bookseller!”

It’s not just good for them, it’s good for the community, which means it’s good for you too. Did you know that money spent at locally owned business gets used/circulated more than seven (7) times within the city? Paul explains, “For every dollar spent at our store, at least $7 of aggregate commerce ‘happens’ in Oakland. When you shop at chains and Amazon, most of the money leave the community. It’s that simple.”

So go on… check out Walden Pond Books. There’s no time like the present and this is a wonderful store with a rich history in Oakland. Plus Father’s Day is just around the corner…

The Demise of Oakland’s Barnes & Noble…

So many of you already know that a few months ago, the only nationwide “chain” retailer of books located in Oakland, and the largest bookstore in our city limits, closed up shop. The Barnes & Noble at Jack London Square closed on January 31st due to declining sales… part of the company’s plan to close underperforming stores around the country.

This can be viewed in a number of ways… Certainly disappointing to many Jack London residents who no longer have this resource within walking distance, and disappointing from a financial perspective in that revenue is being taken away from our city. This store was a powerful magnet for shoppers in an area largely plagued by poor development.

But current plans are already underway to re-develop Jack London Square the way it should have been done from the get-go, and some view the closing as a real opportunity to bring other goods & services to the area that are more desperately needed. For example, despite large complexes of residential condos in the area, there is no local grocery store. (Jack London Square Growing Pains by Lisa Cartolano)  There are rumors that Trader Joe’s, which has already expanded Oakland operations, adding two new stores on College and Lakeshore Avenues in the last year, may set up shop here too.

But I digress… what I want to talk about are the bookstores.

In an article discussing the closure of the Jack London Barnes & Noble, a local columnist asks:

“What does it say about a major metropolis with more than 400,000 residents when our only major bookstore pulls up stakes and leaves?

Oakland can’t support even one of the big two chain bookstores? No Barnes or Borders? What’s up with that?

Do we not read and buy books?

What if you want to buy a book that’s not in one of the independent bookstores and you don’t have the leisure of waiting for the item to arrive in the mail from Amazon? Maybe you wanted to pick up a last-minute birthday gift and get it wrapped on the fly. Now, you have to schlep to Emeryville and deal with the parking hassles.” (Drummond: Mourning the death of an old friend)

I disagree with her. Perhaps this store failed because it was in a poor location to begin with… Jack London has never been magnet for shopping the way that Bay Street has become… there simply were few other retailers there.  Or perhaps Oakland residents prefer to shop locally, keeping their dollars not only in their city, but in their neighborhood no less.  The shop down the street has more character & charm than the chain store, but can still turn your book order around in a day if they don’t have what you need in stock.  You don’t have to go to Emeryville or turn to Amazon for fast service…

We are now a city of exclusively independent bookstores, and that’s a pretty incredible thingMany wonderful quirky local bookstores remain in Oakland, continuing to survive despite the rise (and fall) of the Borders and Barnes & Nobles, and of course, the empire of Amazon.

In the next couple weeks I’ll be featuring many of our best indie-bookstores, and they’ve all got their own fascinating stories to tell… I hope you’ll stay tuned.

bargain books, local bookstores, oakland bookstores