The new Amazon 4-star store has a table featuring items popular with Berkeley residents, including books by Berkeley authors Michael Pollan and Michael Lewis. The merchandise will change regularly. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Amazon opened a 4-star store on Fourth Street this morning, filling it with items that are trending online, are bestsellers, are new, or have gotten a rating of 4 stars or higher from customers online.

Shoppers who enter the store, at 1787 Fourth St., will see thousands of items ranging from kitchen cookware, home décor objects and books, to electrics such Amazon Fire tablets and TVs, and Amazon Echo speakers, and other smart-home devices. There is a table with products that are trending in Berkeley ­— which on Monday included books by Berkeley authors Michael Lewis, Michael Pollan and Samin Nosrat — and others laden with popular kids’ toys and stuff from people’s wish lists on Amazon. Cards inscribed with recommendations from online customers are scattered about.

“We are trying to create a store that is a direct reflection of our customers’ tastes,” said Cameron Janes, vice-president of physical retail for Amazon. “We want to make shopping fun. We want to help people make confident decisions.”

The Berkeley shop has 19 employees, and is Amazon’s third such store, said Janes. The others are in New York City and Lone Tree, near Denver, he said. Amazon has 100 brick-and-mortar stores, not including Whole Foods, he said. The others are Amazon Books, Amazon Pop-Up and Amazon Go stores. Janes would not say how many more physical stores the giant company planned to open.

The average rating of all the products in the 4-star store is 4.4 stars and, collectively, the products have earned more than 1.8 million 5-star reviews, according to the company. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Jake Luba, a customer wearing an Amazon sweatshirt, said he was most interested in the electronics section. Customers can try out the Amazon smart-home devices. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Amazon doesn’t care how shoppers purchase their items, whether in-store or online. The idea is to make the experience as seamless as possible, said Janes. Most of the items have two prices: regular and the price for Amazon Prime customers, which is considerably cheaper. But customers also can “sign up for the Prime price in 30 seconds at the cash register,” Janes said.

Jake Luba, 25, got to the new store around 10:30 a.m. He is a huge Amazon fan and a former Amazon worker and he had been calling the employee line regularly to see when the store would open. He was delighted to learn it was this morning, he said. Dressed in a black sweatshirt and black sweatpants, both with Amazon logos, Luba said he didn’t know what he would buy, only that he would buy something.

“The best thing is you can come in and you don’t have to worry about delivery issues,” he said.

Sometimes when packages get delivered to his apartment complex in Emeryville there is a delay or the delivery person can’t get inside. Coming to the store will resolve that issue, he said.

Kelvin Zhu, 21, a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley, had wandered into the store Monday morning with a friend, Grace Hua, 20, who is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. The two had been shopping at the Apple store when they spotted Amazon 4-star and decided to check it out.

Zhu said he isn’t much of a browser and would probably stick to looking at Amazon products online rather than making the trip to West Berkeley. If he orders before noon, Amazon delivers packages to its facility at UC Berkeley at the MLK Jr. student center.

“I don’t know how often I would come here,” said Zhu, who added, though, that he thought the concept was “cool.”

Hua, on the other hand, said she liked a physical store where she can check things out. She also said she liked the idea of knowing she would get an item immediately rather than having the uncertainty of when it would be delivered.

When Berkeleyside broke the news in April that Amazon would be opening a store on Fourth Street, a number of nearby store owners expressed concern that it would duplicate what was for sale elsewhere, thereby undercutting nearby retail. The degree of overlap varies across types of products. The selection of books is large, but is different from the books offered at Builder’s Booksource down the street. However, Amazon 4-star stocks many items similar to those available at Sur La Table across the street, such as pans, food processors, espresso machines and cookbooks.

The store features an entire section of books. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Janes said Amazon is not determining what to sell by looking at other retailers’ offerings. What is for sale is curated by Amazon.

“All of the products in our store are selected by our team of curators and are rated 4 stars and above, are top sellers, or are new and trending on,” reads a fact sheet distributed to the press.

George Kiskaddon, the owner of Builder’s Booksource said he is glad that Amazon will bring foot traffic to Fourth Street. But he is not a fan of the store’s aesthetics.

“The store itself is ugly,” he said. “It’s a hodgepodge of stuff. The ‘fixture-ization’ is mundane. What are they doing? I don’t get it.”

Amazon 4-star is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.on Sunday.

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 Created California, published in November...