“We are closed due to the shelter in place mandate …. See you on the other side…”

That’s the notice pasted to the storefront of West Berkeley’s Looking Glass Photo & Camera. What the “other side” refers to is open to interpretation. An optimist might say it’s when the pandemic dies down, a pessimist when we all meet at Saint Peter’s pearly gates. The uncertainty of the phrase fits the uncertain times we’re living in. How long will this last? What is the government doing to stop it? Will the next trip to the grocery store result in infection?

For business owners and workers in Berkeley, the unpredictability of the crisis is impossibly frustrating. When the virus appeared in the Bay Area, non-essential outfits closed down, perhaps expecting a short interruption. But the initial shelter-in-place order, which went into place on March 17, is now extended until at least May 3. All indications point to us being in this for the long haul; unfortunately, many shops, restaurants, and local institutions will not survive the duration of the shutdown.

The streets of Berkeley right now resemble the set of an Old West movie after the black-hatted killer comes to town, and all the shops and taverns slam their doors shut while hastily whipping out “CLOSED” placards. Some of these notices are formulaic, others heartfelt, funny or depressing. Here are some of the signs of closure you might see walking around town — not that you should, of course, without a bandana and a really good reason for doing so.

Nina’s Cafe in West Berkeley has a hopeful, cat-endorsed message for customers.

The Toyota dealership on Shattuck Avenue wants to educate you on the differences between flu and coronavirus. Don’t enter if you think you have either.

The Local Butcher Shop is open but advises customers to use their butts, not hands, to open doors. What might’ve seemed like Howard Hughes-level paranoia regarding germs now is just common sense.

The sign at Chez Panisse. Photo: John Metcalfe

Chez Panisse has a note from Alice Waters saying they “plan to start selling and delivering produce from the small farms and gardens that supply us. And, inspired by the example of wartime Victory Gardens, we are encouraging all our customers to [cultivate] their own organic gardens and cook their meals at home.”

A chalk-scrawled message on the outside of the Rae Dunn pottery studio in West Berkeley.

The second-hand warehouse Urban Ore is still open, but a black bear advises people to keep six feet apart and wash their paws.

Kiraku on Telegraph Avenue is also open with a sprawling to-go sake and shochu menu, albeit with a desktop counter blocking the door.

Some places don’t need signs to announce closures, like War Horse Tattoo on Telegraph. The boarded-up shop’s Instagram says the “virus is no joke & the safety of our staff, clients & community is not worth the risk for any amount of money.” It hopes to reopen in May.

There are other, nonofficial signs popping up about the virus. A housing complex in South Berkeley has posted new guidelines for coronavirus. “Essential” maintenance includes the stove not working and a clogged toilet. “Nonessential” jobs include one burner on the stove not working, a running toilet and carpet cleaning. The telephone-poll message pictured above are pasted all around Berkeley Bowl West.

John Metcalfe is an Oakland-based freelance reporter who's written for Berkeleyside, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Atlantic. He enjoys covering science, climate and weather, and urban...