Essential California: A Berkeley indie bookstore’s next chapter

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, April 16, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

If one were to invent the platonic ideal of an only-in-Berkeley small business, they would be hard-pressed to come up with a place more delightfully specific and eclectic than Mrs. Dalloway’s, an independent neighborhood bookstore specializing in the “literary and garden arts.”

Along with its hand-curated literary selection, large children’s section and voluminous titles on all things garden-related, the store also sells seeds, plants and small gardening tools. Occasionally, customers will even schlep their ailing house plants into the cheery, green-walled store for diagnostic aid.

Mrs. Dalloway’s “has a calming effect that makes you want to linger — which is what a bookstore should be about,” John McMurtrie, the former books editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, said over email. “It has you slow down and get lost in the titles, making serendipitous discoveries.”

The name is, of course, a Virginia Woolf reference. Co-owner Marion Abbott said that the idea for the name came to her in the middle of the night, back when she and her business partner Ann Leyhe were still strategizing about the concept before opening the store in 2004.

A bookstore with "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself" written on the wall

“I just sat bolt upright and I said, the first line of ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ is ‘Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.’”

How better to harmonize their slightly unlikely mashup of literature and horticulture than by riffing on one of the most famous opening sentences in 20th-century publishing? It didn’t hurt that the seminal novel had been published in 1925, the same year their College Avenue building was constructed, or that Abbott and Leyhe were nearly the same age as Woolf’s 51-year-old protagonist when they opened the bookstore.

The pair, who met fresh out of college while attending the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course in the summer of 1975, are both longtime Berkeley residents.

Over more than a decade and a half, they’ve built a powerhouse author events program, formed partnerships with local schools and survived a pandemic. They’ve also nurtured Mrs. Dalloway’s into an Elmwood community staple — McMurtrie described the bookstore and the constant stream of customers wandering in and out as “part of the flow of what makes the neighborhood vibrant.”

But the proprietors — who are now both in their late 60s — are ready to retire and pass the torch. On Thursday, they announced they were putting their award-winning bookstore up for sale and looking for a buyer to shepherd it into the future.

And not just any buyer. The women behind Mrs. Dalloway’s want to find the right person for the role — someone who will understand the heart and soul they’ve put into the business, and bring their own vision and energy to it. Leyhe told the East Bay Times that she also hopes a prospective buyer will be able to keep on the bookstore’s entire staff. The proprietors have prepared a detailed buyer’s guide, with information on the store and its assets, as well as what they are looking for in a buyer. They plan to interview interested parties.

Abbott made clear that while the pandemic had been difficult, it was far from the catalyst for selling the bookstore, which recently reopened for in-person browsing. “It’s not a fire sale,” she explained. “We are of a certain age. We’ve been doing this for 17 years, and we’ve been talking about retiring for a while.”

But Abbott did think the pandemic could play a role in a potential buyer’s decision, as people reevaluate their lives amid a reopening world.

“Maybe somebody is going to come along and say, you know, ‘I’ve always wanted to have a bookstore, I don’t want to be in tech anymore. I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore,” she hypothesized.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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L.A. STORIES

“It’s finally time for Doyer baseball.” Latinx Files writer Fidel Martinez writes about how — after a year of coronavirus pain — Dodger Stadium has once again become a symbol of and hub for Latino joy in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times

Tiny houses and shipping containers may help homeless people in L.A. Columnist Carolina Miranda visits L.A.’s new wave of shelter solutions. Los Angeles Times (Note: This story is a Times subscriber exclusive)

An aerial view shows tiny homes in shades of white, red, blue and yellow tucked into a narrow triangle of land

Gustavo Dudamel is Paris Opera’s next music director. What does this mean for L.A.? Los Angeles Times

Meet the local queens taking “RuPaul’s Drag Race” by storm. As they vie for the top prize on VH1’s Emmy-winning reality show, L.A.-based contestants Gottmik and Symone discuss what makes L.A. — and its drag scene — so distinctive. Los Angeles Times

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IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER

Long Beach wants to help the Biden administration house immigrant children. But are city leaders ready? Los Angeles Times

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Democrats begin a long-shot push to expand the Supreme Court: A group of congressional Democrats introduced legislation to add four seats to the Supreme Court, a long-shot bid designed to counter the court’s rightward tilt during the Trump administration and criticized by Republicans as a potential power grab that would reduce the public’s trust in the judiciary. Associated Press

FOPPOLI ALLEGATIONS FALLOUT

Dominic Foppoli, a prominent Wine Country entrepreneur and mayor of the Sonoma County town of Windsor, was accused of sexual assault by several women in a Chronicle investigation published last week. Foppoli has vigorously denied any misconduct.

In an extraordinary Wednesday night Windsor town council meeting partially run by Foppoli, dozens of speakers demanded he resign. The council passed a largely symbolic motion demanding his resignation, with Foppoli offering the only dissenting vote. Another councilmember who has publicly accused Foppoli of sexual assault recused herself from the meeting. San Francisco Chronicle

What happened at the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat with the Foppoli story? In a letter to readers about the paper’s handling of the story that was published last week, the Press-Democrat’s new editor disclosed that “editors failed to follow through” when “a reporter shared a tip” regarding allegations of sexual assault made by at least two women about Foppoli.

“We failed our loyal readers and Windsor voters and residents,” wrote Richard Green, who joined the Press-Democrat as executive editor in late February. “Even more important, our decision to not thoroughly investigate these women’s accounts about alleged incidents involving Foppoli may have caused more personal heartache, humiliation and physical and emotional harm for other women.” Green unequivocally apologized for the paper’s handling of the story in 2019 and vowed that the newsroom would do better moving forward. Santa Rosa Press-Democrat

Slightly more information about the situation was shared by the paper’s editorial board, who wrote that “Alexandria Bordas, one of the Chronicle reporters who broke the story, first investigated allegations against Foppoli while she was working at The Press-Democrat. Her editors determined that the information wasn’t solid enough to publish and let the story drop.” The editorial board, which operates separately from the newsroom, also apologized for repeatedly endorsing Foppoli. Santa Rosa Press-Democrat editorial board

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

California power regulators are poised to reprimand Pacific Gas & Electric for continuing to neglect its electrical grid and could order the utility to do be more vigilant in the upcoming months of hot, windy weather. Associated Press

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

The second pandemic edition of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books kicks off this weekend. Here’s how to watch. Los Angeles Times

A poem to start your Friday: “Crossing” by Jericho Brown. Poets.org

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: partly cloudy, 72. San Diego: morning clouds but the sun will ultimately prevail, 66. San Francisco: windy, 57. San Jose: mostly sunny, 70. Fresno: sunny, 81. Sacramento: sunny, 82.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Nari Maidl:

When I was 12, the Beatles came to the Hollywood Bowl on their 1965 U.S. tour. My dad offered to drive me and two friends from our homes in Downey. As we found our seats, we heard friendly teasing about how young we were. When the Beatles took the stage, we jumped out of our seats and joined in the emotional frenzy of screaming, crying and singing. It was over too quickly and we wondered how we would find my dad, as we were mostly hidden in the moving mass of exiting concertgoers. We were relieved to find him (or did he find us?), right where he said he would be. My first rock concert.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


latimes.com

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