Berkeley at winter solstice. Photo: D.H. Parks.

It’s been a relatively quiet year in Berkeley compared to some other turbulent decades, but there were a number of developments that were significant to the city. Berkeleyside takes a look at 2010’s most important trends.

Economic downturn

It took a little time to reach Berkeley, but once it arrived the news was not good. One barometer of the malaise was a city report that showed Berkeley retail sales revenue had dropped around $200 million in the last two years.

Store closures bore out those statistics. People have cut down their spending and are also doing much of it now on the Internet. The retail store may one day be an endangered species. Among the stores that closed this year (or announced their closure) was Wilderness Exchange, which had been a fixture on San Pablo Avenue for 23 years, Sufficient Grounds on Durant Avenue, which had fed generations of Cal students, Doggie High, which catered to the high school set, Left Coast Cyclery on Domingo Avenue, Green Motors on San Pablo, and Amanda’s Feel Good Fresh Food on Shattuck.

2010 could be considered the year of the death of the video store. Berkeley lost three bricks and mortar places – Videot’s on College, Reel Video on Shattuck and Front Row Video on Solano.

Devin McDonald and Jenny Stevenson, new owners of Mr Mopps’.
Devin McDonald and Jenny Stevenson, new owners of Mr Mopps’.

There were some noticeable successes, too. When Berkeleyside put the word out that Mr Mopps’, that venerable toy store, was going to shut down, the community sprang into action. Fans of the store set up a Facebook page to save the institution. Devin McDonald, the son of famed Berkeley musician Country Joe McDonald, grew up visiting Mr. Mopps’ and was so upset at the store’s closure, he and his girlfriend, Jennie Stevenson, stepped in to buy it.

And the community also made a difference at Inca Service on Ashby. In April we reported that Chevron Corporation wanted to turn Hugo Cornejo’s auto repair shop into a larger market, but cries of protest from loyal customers convinced the company to cease and desist.

And in other good news, Weatherford BMW, the city’s largest taxpayer, stopped looking for a new location in Oakland and decided to remain in Berkeley. All it took was a little persuading by city officials – and an agreement to postpone some permit fees for a new structure.

Berkeley is also setting the stage for a new kind of relationship between businesses and their customers. With the rise of Facebook and Twitter, stores are reaching out into the community like they never have before. Groupon has become a social phenomenon and many Berkeley businesses have tried it. This year, a number of Berkeley entrepreneurs have used, a crowd-sourcing site, to raise money to open new businesses. Berkeleyans can look forward to a new community olive oil press and cheese CSA as a result of those efforts.

Kara Hammond, manager of the Elmwood Cafe.

But in Berkeley, we do things differently. One of the most interesting trends takes that community engagement even further. Take the Elmwood Café, which is donating half its annual profits to non-profit groups. Certainly, in tough times, when people are more deliberate about spending their dollars, it makes sense to dine at a place that serves up a pinch of altruism with the cinnamon dusting its lattes. And that’s where those bright green Buy Local Berkeley stickers come into play as well. Those words became a sort of mantra this year, but in Berkeley, a city that has always admired home-grown, they are a perfect match of lifestyle and philosophy.

As for 2011, there are a few developments Berkeleyans will be watching closely. The most significant is the opening of an Apple store on Fourth Street, a Berkeleyside scoop we reported in October. It’s a coup that Denny Abrams and the city persuaded Apple to open an outlet here (or maybe they didn’t persuade the company since no one tells Apple what to do). But the store will generate significant tax revenue for Berkeley, something even an Android lover can embrace.

2011 should also see the opening of Sports Basement in the old Iceland rink and Walgreen’s in the old Elephant Pharmacy.

Government does matter

Bond measures and ballot propositions are usually sleep inducers, but the passage in November of Measure R, Measures H and I, and Measures S and T will shape Berkeley’s future for decades to come.

Downtown. Photo: Transbay Blog.

Measure R, an advisory measure on downtown development, should help Berkeley figure out the best way to transform its moribund downtown into a more vibrant economic center. Whether slow grow advocates will let this happen is another question, but the passage of Measure R is a good indication that the bulk of Berkeley residents are not happy with all the empty storefronts on Shattuck Avenue.

Measure H and I: Few other cities in the United States adopt new school building and maintenance measures with the regularity of Berkeley. It’s not easy getting two-thirds of a city’s voters to agree to spend money. But this community places a high priority on education and is willing to pay for it. The bond money coming from these measures will help the Berkeley Unified School District continue upgrading it facilities. Let’s wish them as much success in closing the achievement gap.

Measures S and T: Berkeley was one of the first cities to embrace medical marijuana collectives and dispensaries. Measures S and T will greatly expand the marijuana industry in Berkeley by allowing more cultivation, which should bring in more marijuana tax revenue. The big unknown: how the federal government will regard the six 30,000 square feet grow areas. After hearing some threats from the federal government, Oakland has  backed away from its ambitious plans to become the nation’s marijuana capital. Berkeley will be watching closely.

Crime: heartbreaking deaths

Malik Grayson.

There were six murders in 2010, the same number as in 2009 [N.B. an earlier version of this story had the murder count for 2009 as 3 — we apologize for the error]. One of the most heartbreaking deaths was the killing of 14-year old Berkeley High student Malik Grayson by a 17-year old friend. The 17-year old’s grandmother called the shooting accidental, but the Berkeley police department arrested him on attempted murder charges. (This was before Grayson had died from his wounds.) The Alameda District Attorney’s office released the youth without filing any charges while Berkeley police continue to gather evidence.

Another heartbreaking killing came in September, when a robber accosted and then shot Adolfo Ignacio Celedon of Chile while he was walking home from a evening at Ashkenaz. He died in front of his fiancée, Amber Nelson, an architecture student at UC Berkeley.

Also disturbing is the recent spate of armed robberies. At one point, the Berkeley Police Department seemed to be announcing daily that there had been another armed robbery. North Berkeley, in particular, was hard hit. However, arrests were also made, including of one suspect who is believed to have been responsible for many of the hold-ups.

Food: focus on community

The year’s round-up wouldn’t be complete without a review of Berkeley’s food scene. While the big names continued to make headlines, this was the year when under-the-radar, community-focused food heroes had their moment in the spotlight.

So Alice Waters may have shrugged off losing her Michelin star for Chez Panisse, had her kitchen lovingly detailed in Vanity Fair, and signed up Hollywood hunk Jake Gyllenhaal as an Edible Schoolyard ambassador, but Berkeleyside readers seemed more concerned about the possible demise of a Multi Culti Grill and Birdland Jazz Club, a popular front yard BBQ-jazz club.

Alex Velez and Nikhil Arora, the Mushroom Guys. Photo: Kristen Loken.

The launch of a sustainable mushroom growing business by two former Cal grads also caught people’s attention, while Berkeley lived up to its reputation for being on the foodie frontlines with concepts such as community kitchens, exemplified by Three Stone Hearth, the Berkeley doctors determined to improve hospital food, the opening of a student-run food collective, and the high school math teacher running a thriving 7,800 sq ft farm in his west Berkeley back yard.

After all, if there’s one thing Berkeley can always be counted on for, it’s taking the initiative.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...