The La Farine bakery at 1820 Solano Ave. abruptly closed Tuesday, July 1, after failing to negotiate a new lease with its landlord. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
The La Farine bakery at 1820 Solano Ave. abruptly closed Tuesday, July 1, after failing to negotiate a new lease with its landlord. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The La Farine bakery at 1820 Solano Ave. in North Berkeley abruptly shut its doors Tuesday, July 1, after failing to reach a lease agreement after a protracted battle with its landlords.

A telephone message on the company’s phone line says the store had to shut abruptly because it could not renew its lease, but that it hopes to relocate somewhere else on Solano Avenue.

“We are very very sad to leave,” said Jeff Dodge, the owner of La Farine for the last 17 years. “Plain speaking, we don’t have a lease, and when you can’t work something out with your landlord, you have to go.”

Dodge declined to be specific about why he and the landlords, James and Gina Gould of Hundred Acre Wood Properties, could not reach a new lease agreement.

Someone familiar with the situation, who asked not to be named, told Berkeleyside that there had been some mold issues that the landlord decided were the responsibility of La Farine to fix. The building floor is also sloping, causing water to collect at one end. The landlord also told Dodge that La Farine needed to correct that deficiency, according to the source.

The Goulds could not be reached by press time.

On Monday, the manager of the Solano store denied that the store would close today, July 1. The store was fully stocked with freshly made breads, morning buns, scones and cookies. Customers came in and out in a steady stream and settled at the tables clustered by the front door. There was no indication that anything unusual was about to occur.

A customer selects pastries at La Farine on Monday, June 30. The bakery abruptly shut its doors the following day. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

La Farine opened on Solano 10 years ago after a protracted battle about whether the new building would overwhelm the neighborhood. Since then, the bakery has become a beloved part of the neighborhood and an anchor tenant. Dodge said he hopes to find a new location nearby.

“We love the location. We love the neighborhood. We have every intention of getting back on that street as soon as possible,” he said.

The closure of La Farine is a blow to upper Solano Avenue, which has struggled in recent years. There are numerous vacancies on the block, with some more in the pipeline, said Allen Cain, the executive director of the Solano Avenue Association. The Oaks Theatre is closed. One store, the former Fickle Bag at 1885 Solano, has mail in its entryway from July 2013, suggesting that the property has not even been shown by a real estate agent since then. The 76 station is scheduled to close at the end of 2014, said Cain, and neighbors recently blocked the construction of a Walgreens store on that site. The Safeway on Solano Avenue in Albany is an underperforming store and Cain fears it, too, may close.

“The problem with vacancies is that they are like viruses. They breed,” said Cain.

Some observers say the storefronts remain vacant because the rents are too high, but Cain does not believe that is the issue. Other high-rent districts, like San Francisco’s Union Square, are in high demand.

“We are in danger,” Cain said. “Not only are the vacancies sizable in their square footage, we have some vacancies that shouldn’t be vacant. The rent is reasonable.”

By mid-morning Tuesday, disappointed customers had started leaving goodbye notes on the shuttered front doors. “To the landlord here …. bring back La Farine …pleease! The neighborhood is hurt by this loss. The Wallace family,” read one note.

A note left on the front door of La Farine on Solano on July 1, after the bakery abruptly shut its doors.

La Farine still has three branches in Oakland: one at College Avenue near Alcatraz Avenue, one at 3411 Fruitvale Ave. in the Dimond district, and one at 4094 Piedmont Ave.

Update 4:25 pm: This article has been updated to remove a quote about mold that may have been inaccurate. 

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Testy response to proposed Walgreens on Solano Avenue (10.28.13)
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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...