At 11 a.m. on a Thursday, the 99 Cents Only Stores on San Pablo Avenue is crowded. The shelves are emptying and sale signs are tacked up, but customers line up to check out with baskets filled to the brim.
The company announced the store will be closing its doors permanently at the end of November, according to the 99 Cents Only Stores website. After it closes, the nearest 99 Cents Only stores will be located in Richmond and Pinole. The West Berkeley store is situated inside Berkeley’s historic Rivoli Theater.
Customers said they frequent the store mainly because of its comparably low prices. One such customer, Karma Lopez, said it will be “hard to find somewhere else with prices like this.” Another customer, Monique Oatis, said she would shop at other stores, such as Pac ‘N Save, but the prices will likely be higher.
Other shoppers said they didn’t know where they would go without the 99 Cents Only Store.
“For the people in this community this is a big loss because going to other places will be more expensive, especially with the prices of everything going up,” Oatis said.
Store manager Milena Mehari said while prices have been fluctuating recently, it still remains cheaper than many other stores. She said the prices change nearly every day, but that they both decrease and increase.
Mehari said she doesn’t know what job she’ll work next, but that she is considering working in food delivery with a company such as Uber Eats or Doordash. Other employees, she said, already have jobs lined up or may file for unemployment.
According to the 99 Cents Only Stores website, employees at the West Berkeley location have been offered the chance to work at nearby stores. Mehari, however, said she feels worse for the customers than the employees.
“It will be hard for some customers,” Mehari said. “I feel bad for them. For us … we can find another job.”
In response to tentative plans to build housing in place of the 99 Cents Only Store, customers had mixed feelings.
Longtime Berkeley resident Deidre Mitchell said the amount of low-income housing will make the difference for her.
“There’s a need for this kind of store but there’s also a need for housing for the homeless,” Mitchell said. “It could be a win-win situation or a lose-lose situation. If it doesn’t benefit the homeless it’s a lose-lose. We can only wait and see what’s going to actually happen.”