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The Swan Song of Telegraph Avenue?

Soumya Karlamangla profiles a once-thriving hippie mecca, hit by hard times and largely abandoned, even by the nearby student population. Is it down for the count?
November 21, 2012, 2pm PST | Ryan Lue
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Even before last year's fire, things on Telegraph were a shadow of what they had been in its glory days. But when a blaze on the main drag of Berkeley, California consumed a 39-unit apartment building and the restaurants below, it sent a shockwave through the neighborhood from which it's still waiting to recover.

"The idea that the neighborhood was closed down permeated out into the rest of the area," said Doris Moskowitz, second-generation owner of nearby Moe's Books, "and we're really not seeing foot traffic come back." Moskowitz was forced to lay off three employees in the slump following the disaster.

Both officials and business owners throughout the city have tried to revitalize the area economically without compromising its hippie character, but, as Karlamangla explains, "The effort has largely failed - since 1990, sales on Telegraph have declined more than 40 percent," according to Dave Fogarty, the city's economic development project coordinator. While some landowners and community members are eager to rebuild vacant lots, and the city council has even offered to waive some development mitigation fees, other developers and officials have entangled themselves in legnth court battles, "each accusing the other of failing to live up to promises."

Karlamangla points to the disconnect between the 60s college-town environment and changing consumer preferences: "Students may walk up Telegraph to get to class, but they prefer to shop in San Francisco or Emeryville, according to a survey conducted last year by UC Berkeley's student government. From Telegraph, they want to see more restaurants and nightlife; anchor stores such as Moe's Books and Amoeba Records carry items they've become accustomed to buying online."

"People who remember Telegraph from their younger days, said Moskowitz, 'come here ... and it breaks their heart, because they see addiction and they see misery and they don't want to come back. I don't know if Telegraph is meaningful to people anymore, or if it just makes them sad.'"

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Published on Saturday, November 17, 2012 in SF Gate
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