In mid-May, the Berkeley community was devastated by the closure of yet another beloved local landmark, Shattuck Cinemas. This, unfortunately, is not an isolated incident.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an increase in turnover of local businesses downtown and on Telegraph Avenue due to a decrease in customers and subsequent struggles to pay bills. Theaters, book stores, coffee shops and other small businesses have gone bankrupt due to a lack of business; others have been bought out by larger corporations, often to fulfill housing development plans. As more and more longtime favorites — including Brewed Awakening coffee shop, University Press Books and California Theatre — disappear, Berkeley’s local culture disappears with them.
However, the select few that have struggled but successfully fought to stay afloat or be restored continue to prove their value to the Berkeley community and culture. After being closed for more than two years, Ashkenaz, the music and dance community center, for example, is set to reopen June 5, revitalizing the dance traditions people have been traveling to Berkeley for for nearly five decades.
As a unified front, the Berkeley community and local government must work together to prevent further deterioration of our still-rich local culture by preserving local businesses. There are two primary ways to meet this goal: public and financial support.
For Berkeley residents and UC Berkeley students, simply making the conscious effort to visit these local businesses can save those facing imminent bankruptcy. It has been well established that the livelihoods of these businesses largely depend on students, despite many of us failing to realize the impact our collective dollars may have.
On the other hand, the Berkeley government must play its part by providing necessary subsidies and other forms of financial support. While there are already programs such as small business administration loans and the Paycheck Protection Program in place to provide aid in light of the pandemic, greater resources should be allocated toward sites integral to our community.
If even a fraction of the $4.4 million budget currently assigned to police overtime can be redirected towards small businesses, it could create a great difference because without those landmarks, the city of Berkeley will lose much of the charm that makes it the renowned cultural city that it is.
It is only with everyone in the Berkeley community — government officials, residents and students alike — actively working towards this goal that we can save these beloved landmark businesses. After already losing so many to the pandemic, we cannot afford to sit back and watch more of them disappear from our city. So text your friends, grab your family, appreciate Berkeley’s wonderful culture and contribute to saving it in the process.