End of an Era: Eastwind Books Shuttering After 41 Years

One of the nation’s oldest Asian-American bookstores is permanently shutting its doors.

Book Culture Book News Community Publishing
Eastwind Books

As April inches closer, Eastwind Books of Berkeley will see its last month in operation after 41 years of business in Berkeley California.  

The quaint bookstore, standing proudly at 2066 University Ave., will shut its doors on April 30 this year after the owners concluded this was the best decision for them. 

Harvey and Beatrice Dong, now in their 70s, were faced with several dilemmas leading up to this decision. To begin with, managing a local bookstore at this age is becoming more taxing, and they want to make time to look after their aging parents too. 

The pandemic brought on its own difficulties, not least of all anti-Asian hate and vandalism to the bookstore. Monthly rent went up by $140, coupled with an expensive bill for utilities and maintenance. Business has been slow since the rise of Amazon and other online booksellers, although the couple does plan on selling some books online after shutting the store. 

Eastwind Books
Image via Berkeleyside

Speaking to Berkeleyside, Harvey said he would have happily passed on ownership to someone else, but unfortunately, no one stepped up in time to take over. The Dongs and store staff have already begun wrapping things up, clearing bookshelves, and marking down books. 

Finding Identity and Community Within

For the last 41 years, Eastwind Books has been so much more than a local bookstore. Activists, writers, and academics — mostly Asian-American — found solace and community within the bookstore. Eastwind Books has independently published more than 40 books that mainstream publishers didn’t want to publish. 

One of the first books Eastwind published was A Village in the Fields by Filipino American author Patty Enrado. The novel is centered around a Filipino farmworker’s struggle for civil rights in Delano, California. 

Harvey and Beatrice are no strangers to activism and civil rights battles through the 1970s and 80s. Harvey has a long history of being an anti-war protester, a Black Panthers supporter, and a member of the Asian American Political Alliance at UC Berkeley. In 1969, Harvey was part of the Third World Liberation Front strikes that catalyzed the creation of UC Berkeley’s ethnic studies department, whose Asian American studies program Beatrice later enrolled at. Since high school, she had protested police killings and fought to improve working conditions in Chinatown garment factories. 

Eastwind Books owner Beatrice Dong  protesting the murder of Bobby Hutton by Oakland police at Oakland High School
Image via Berkeley

The couple’s connection with UC Berkeley strengthened over the years, with the university’s Ethnic Studies Library buying hundreds of books about Asian America, Native American, and Chicano and Latino topics. Several professors also supported Eastwind Books by suggesting students buy course materials from there.    

It’s prominent to note here that in the 1990s, textbooks on Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies were not sold at every bookstore, making Eastwind a pioneer in doing so. 

Those who frequented the store remember it being an inviting space for casual discussions, a “clubhouse open to all.” The store carried everything from rare 1970s recordings of Asian American musicians to Marxist-Leninist pamphlets to secondhand copies of 1980s novels.  

When Harvey and Beatrice took over Eastwind Books’ Berkeley location in 1996, they filled it with the kind of books they wanted to read; Asian American and ethnic studies books and literature with a focus on social justice. Prior to that, the store had been owned and operated for 14 years by a Hong Kong company focusing on books written in Chinese, not English. 

Although Eastwind Books will soon cease to exist in a physical structure, its place in history will always be remembered by those who sought it out in the best and worst of times, those who strengthened their Asian identity within, and those who found a sense of belonging in what Harvey and Beatrice created. 

For more content on bookstores, read here.