Bizarre Berkeley Bizarre’s Weird Demise

by Steed Dropout
May 22, 2015


Earth’s Bizarre Grand Opening last year. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Formerly Funky Berkeley was looking for the next adjective—bizarre—when the “Earth’s Bizarre” opened last year. One of those only in Berkeley scenarios. Only on Bizarre Berkeley’s South side, a few steps from Telegraph Avenue.

Berkeley Reporter saw the visionary business when it was just a gleam in the eye of founder, Robert Keaton, who looked like a hippy, with a hippy business model.

Keating envisioned a neighborhood gathering place, with an open mike, offering an alternative to alcohol. The Bizarre is surrounded by bars. Two additional bars recently opened next door. His “collectibles,” as he called them would just be on display, maybe not even for sale. He wanted to paint the building hippy. Berkeley Reporter pointed out that the building was an historic landmark and couldn’t be painted brazenly.

The property owner nixed the hippy paint job, but the Bizarre’s repainting was still pretty trippy.

Earth’s Bizarre Grand Opening last year. PNot hippy, but trippy. Photo by Ted Friedman.

It had taken Keating more than a year to open. Estimated rent for that year was more than $100,00, as Keating’s rent-a-Hauls arrived sporadically with the ‘collectibles.’ Keating told me his income came from four internet businesses he planned to run from the Bizarre’s back offices. The building had been a Tower Records, and in 1916 a student movie house. It has a semi-circular ceiling of mirrors.

People with glass ceilings should not get stoned. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Keating hired hippies and opened a year after he’d promised. But when he did open it was worth waiting for. Nothing like this had ever been seen on the Avenue. Roland Peterson, then, a Telegraph business
spokesman had said the avenue needed an “anchor business.” This was it.

It was gone before buyers could find it, lasting barely a year. Irregular business hours foiled customers, who were often spotted outside the store, asking “When does it open.”

Owner, Keating, on closing day, last week. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Keating settled on the apt name, Earth’s Bizarre, because so many of the curios and collectibles were from around the world. But this was no Cost Plus. It was more like four cost pluses. Earth’s Bizarre would have been a hit on Fisherman’s Wharf.

Something for everyone. Photo by Ted Friedman.

My mind was blown by the displays. Keating had predicted Earth’s Bizarre would be like Disneyland, and I could see what he meant. There were rare guitars hanging on the wall and antique amusement rides, like the bucking pony that once cost twenty-five cents to ride outside a grocery store.There were hordes of Oriental religious icons next to cathode ray 1930’s T.V.s, an 1880s letterpress.

“How could you take this stuff home?” one shopper asked.

Marble Marvel, Heavy. Photo by Ted Friedman.

For those without moving men to get the heavy stuff out the door, the Bizarre offered notebooks, pencils, books, and all kinds of pins, and clothes. A cat-of-nine-tails flagellation whip became the butt of gallows humor on the Bizarre’s last day, as the owner and staff tried to be upbeat.

Whip it! Photo by Ted Friedman.

“I lost $400,000 on this,” Keating told me, last week. He blamed parking tickets, and his landlords for killing off the store. “I was paying five thousand a month for parking tickets, while making only four thousand from the Bizarre. “I’m waiting for the Sheriff to evict me, now.”

Maybe that’s why he moved everything outside on the walk and hired some street people to watch the stuff for him.

'I’m homeless,' Keating moaned. Photo by Ted Friedman.

“I’m homeless,” Keating moaned.


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