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Oakland’s eclectic Book Zoo store closes its doors

Disclosed book on table at library

Book Zoo, one of several bookstores in the bustling Piedmont Avenue neighborhood of Oakland, has shut its doors.

A tiny, 500-square-foot store that sold only used, eclectic titles — most of its 7,000 books were out of print — Book Zoo closed Thursday.

“I had a small shop, and a small shop has a hard time getting by,” store owner Erik Lyngen said by phone. “The usual suspects — changing tastes in reading matter, shall we say” were to blame for the closing, he said.

“To be fair, our rent did not go up,” Lyngen added. “But it was always too high for this kind of business.” Most of what he earned, he said, went toward paying rent. He didn’t disclose what the rent was.

Book Zoo had been in the neighborhood for six years after relocating from two other spots in Berkeley and Oakland. “It sounds maybe inauspicious,” Lyngen said with a laugh, but the store had been in business for roughly 13 years.

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A number of the bookstores in the area — Owl & Co., Dr. Comics & Mr. Games, Spectator, and Black Swan — are all on busy Piedmont Avenue, whose shops and restaurants draw a lot of pedestrians. The bookstores have promoted the street as the Bay Area’s “biggest book row.” Book Zoo, just off the avenue, at 14 Glen Ave., attracted less foot traffic. Next door is Issues, a store specializing in magazines.

Lyngen prides himself in collecting unusual books; two titles the store featured on Twitter were “The Girdle of Chastity: A History of the Chastity Belt” and “All About a Container Ship.”

“The weirder, the better,” Lyngen said about the books he liked but weren’t destined to become bestsellers. “So, I sort of made it hard on myself.”

But Lyngen isn’t giving up as a bookseller. He plans to start an Indiegogo campaign to fund a Book Zoo bookmobile that will hit the road in the fall. “It’s a new, permanent and inevitable form of retail,” he said about the mobile business. “I’m actually excited about getting out and getting the books to the people instead of sitting and waiting for people to find me. We’re not down and out. This is a new chapter.”

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