Closure of People’s Bazaar Highlights Berkeley Gentrification

The 48-year-old antique store People’s Bazaar closed in early December, adding to the large number of Black-owned businesses closing in Berkeley. The story of the South Berkeley store’s closing is common throughout the Bay Area due to rapid gentrification. Owner and co-founder of People’s Bazaar Sam Dyke has seen South Berkeley change from a community of color to a primarily white one ever since opening his store in 1972. He described gentrification as having “an impact on all Black businesses in South Berkeley; it has created an exodus.”

People’s Bazaar was cherished within the South Berkeley community, and visited by a diverse range of shoppers. “It’s been a place I’ve grown up in, I’ve met people from everywhere. It’s an eclectic community,” Dyke said. He recalled how people would come to play the antique instruments and talk about whatever was prevalent in the community at the time. It was more than just a place to buy antique products, it was where members of the community could gather.

Additionally, any Black-owned business is “very important to the community,’’ according to Mansour Id-Deen, local business owner and friend of Dyke. “Once they have left, they can rarely come back to South Berkeley,” Id-Deen said. This is why the closing of Dyke’s shop is devastating to the community.

Dyke retired after years of successfully selling his products to a diverse clientele. “As the population changed, the clientele changed, mostly to young whites who needed inexpensive furnishing,” said Dyke. However, many businesses aren’t able to survive a dramatic population change. Id-Deen said, “When I first moved here in 1968, South Berkeley was 68 percent Black, and now Berkeley as a whole went from around 27 percent Black to around 5 or 6 percent.” Although People’s Bazaar did not fall victim to gentrification, it’s closing represents a more important narrative of diversity disappearing from communities of color.

In the ‘70s, when BART began construction, there was a trench in between People’s Bazaar and its main source of customers. Dyke would compensate for this lack of customers by packing up his products and going to the Alameda flea market. He did this for years to keep the business alive. This resilience reflects the fight put up by many South Berkeleans and low income Bay Area residents against the displacement of their communities. Initially, BART was planning on making a ground level track, which Id-Deen said would have “cut the community in half.” He also stated, “The people in this particular community fought that idea, and won … It basically saved the community.” Just as Dyke survived the negative impact of BART, South Berkeley did the same, showing its resilience. However, the challenge in dealing with gentrification is more complicated.

Many of the stores surrounding People’s Bazaar are newer, and have come into business in the last decade. These businesses come looking for cheaper real estate, buying lower priced properties and renovating them individually. By improving the value of the properties, businesses inadvertently increase housing prices throughout the neighborhood, and push the lower income residents out of the area. According to the most recent census, 31 percent of residents were either at risk of or experiencing gentrification. Additionally, raising prices incentivizes low income store owners to sell their properties, hurting the diversity of business in the community.

“You can’t really stop gentrification,” Dyke said. He continued that its effects have changed the racial diversity in Berkeley significantly, and there seems to be no sign of it stopping. Id-Deen added: “Gentrification is one of those issues that are more economic than racial, however it ends up being racial because of the economic disparities in the community.”

According to Dyke, the public could support more Black-owned businesses. He believes this is important because many of these businesses, like People’s Bazaar, have a more significant impact on the community than meets the eye.

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