In Berkeley, an Asian American Institution Prepares to Close Its Doors

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(From left to right) Longtime Eastwind Books employee and poet, Brian Ang, owner Harvey Dong and employee Banoo Garcia-Afkhami in the store on March 28. (Ariana Proehl/KQED)

When I visit Eastwind Books on Berkeley’s University Avenue in late March, the store is already starting to look a little bare. News has spread that one of the nation’s first Asian American bookstores is closing after 41 years of business. Discount signs for $5 books hang on the shelves, and sections of the store are being broken down.

“We’re all just cleaning shelves. We’re donating a lot of the center ones to other nonprofits,” says Banoo Garcia-Afkhami, an Eastwind Books employee since 2021.

“A lot of people have been coming in and they’ve been wanting merch,” Garcia-Afkhami adds. “They’ve been wanting postcards, they’ve been wanting things that remind them, like with our name on it.”

Eastwind Books has certainly been a “merch-worthy” fixture in the community — not only as a bookstore, but as an event space, publisher and local landmark for Asian American and ethnic studies. As someone who majored in ethnic studies at UC Berkeley 20 years ago, I still have vivid memories of sourcing school books from the packed, narrow store.

The Eastwind Books storefront in Berkeley has big, glass windows with shelves full of books.
The storefront of Eastwind Books of Berkeley on University Avenue in Berkeley on March 28. (Ariana Proehl/KQED)

But Eastwind Books’ lease is up at the end of April, and Harvey Dong, who owns it with his wife Beatrice Dong, says they had to make some tough decisions.


“I guess there were a number of factors,” says Dong, who is in his 70s. “One is our age, the other is having to deal with family issues, elderly parents.”

Dong also cites gentrification of the neighborhood as a cause, and the costs of rising rent and sales tax.

“Because we’ve been at it for 27 years, we felt that it’s time to open a new chapter in our lives,” Dong says.

The Dongs bought the bookstore in 1996. At the time, it had already been around for 14 years, and was known for selling Chinese-language books and books on U.S.-China relations. Under their ownership, the Dongs began adding Asian American literature and ethnic studies books to the shelves.

“In order for a bookstore to survive, it has to be something along the lines of a community center that takes in customer suggestions, and that helps give voice to the community,” Dong says.

To that end, the Dongs pulled inspiration from Beatrice’s newly completed degree in ethnic studies, and their joint experiences as longtime activists who’d worked with numerous civil rights coalitions. They had been members of the Asian American Political Alliance at UC Berkeley, and participated in the Third World Liberation Front protests that resulted in the establishment of an ethnic studies department at UC Berkeley in 1969.

In the late 1970s, they fought to save low-income senior housing at San Francisco’s International Hotel. As part of those efforts, Harvey Dong got his first taste of bookselling, co-founding the country’s first Asian American bookstore, Everybody’s Bookstore, in the International Hotel building.

Taking over Eastwind Books and expanding its scope was a fitting endeavor for them. “We began very small scale,” Dong says. “But over time, we networked, we met authors. We made a lot of friends and contacts in the community. And from that, the Eastwind Books of Berkeley became very well connected in the Bay Area.”

Brian Ang, a poet who has worked at Eastwind Books for over a decade, says the store has consistently attracted great people, “both in the staff and community members. The spirit will live on for everyone it was important for.”

Dong notes that a number of Eastwind Books employees over the years have gone on to be writers and educators themselves — another part of the store’s legacy that will endure.

As news of the closure has spread, the Dongs have seen a lot of old friends come out of the woodwork. “I haven’t been able to come here everyday, but I do see handwritten notes of appreciation for having been here, for having this location and for being able to know them,” Dong says. “I thought those were inspiring.”

While the physical bookstore is officially closing, Dong plans to keep building community with books, including online sales. One project already in the pipeline: working with retired UC Berkeley ethnic studies professor Carlos Muñoz, Jr. to publish his autobiography.

“We do want to continue our work through events, publishing and supporting authors,” Dong says.

Events are currently being organized to bid farewell to Eastwind Books, including a sendoff at UC Berkeley’s Multicultural Community Center on April 27. In the meantime, Eastwind Books can be found online.