The Shattuck Avenue Dollar Tree, which has provided snacks, greeting cards, cleaning supplies, knickknacks and home goods to Downtown Berkeley patrons for 15 years, will close Sunday, the chain store confirmed.
Customers told Berkeleyside they had been noticing that many of the aisles were running empty over the last few months, and assumed it was due to COVID-19 issues. Many were surprised late last week when a sign popped up saying May 16 would be the store’s last day in business.
Kayleigh Painter, spokesperson for Dollar Tree, did not say why the store is closing, but said, “we do close stores occasionally for a variety of reasons, including sale of the property, end of a lease term, etc.” The commercial giant closed hundreds of stores in 2019, but business improved during the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s set to open hundreds more by the end of this year.
The store’s lease ends on June 30, according to Lafayette-based landlord Bruce Whitten, whose family has owned the building for over 75 years. He said the Dollar Tree, which is at 2440 Shattuck. Ave. (at Haste Street), was once the brink of ending the lease five years ago before it chose to stay open. This time around, he remained hopeful that the store would keep its lease before he learned it had posted a final closing sign.
“It was our desire that they stay,” said Whitten, emphasizing that the closure was not due to an increase in rent and that the Whittens have supported three longterm tenants at the property since 1946 with little turnover. “We never got to a discussion of price, but we never even discussed raising it by even a penny.”
Whitten was pleased to have Dollar Tree as a tenant because the store benefits people in the community that need its affordable prices. At the same time, he said, “the decline of the neighborhood” has made it difficult to operate retail businesses in Downtown Berkeley, and he doesn’t have any businesses knocking down his door yet to rent the property.
“We’ll have to figure out what we do after that — if in fact they do close,” Whitten said.
Foot traffic in downtown dropped by 85% during the COVID-19 pandemic and is only just starting to recover at about 65% below average, according to Downtown Berkeley Association CEO John Caner. In the city overall, the Office of Economic Development found that the pandemic brought tax revenue down 13.2% and resulted in job loss for over 3,000 people.
Caner is hopeful that the return of Cal students in August will revive the downtown area, including the southern area occupied by the soon-to-be-gone Dollar Tree.
For customers who used to shop there, the discount store options are now significantly further from the city’s downtown core. There’s a 99 Cents Only Store on San Pablo Avenue (at University Avenue), and a Dollar Tree on San Pablo Avenue (at Gilman Street). Both stores are over 2 miles away.
“A lot of people need a dollar store,” said Crystal Ashley, who works at Cal and has been shopping at the Dollar Tree for over 10 years. She was running errands at the store on Tuesday, and said it’s her go-to spot for paper goods, snacks, and office and kitchen supplies, especially because it’s the perfect distance from work during a lunch break. “I’m just like, ‘Where am I going to go now?’ I know a lot of people are going to (miss it). It’s right here, and it’s always convenient.”