EL CERRITO -- A longtime Berkeley bookstore with the very Berkeley name of The Other Change of Hobbit has opened for business in long-vacant space on Kearney Street near Potrero Avenue.
Owner Dave Nee, an El Cerrito resident, said he relocated to save some money on rent and develop new customers.
He is moving his stock from a storage unit to the long-vacant 4,000-square-foot space in a small strip mall and is in the process of walling-off half of the space for the store.
Despite the store's name, Nee said only a small fraction of his sales involve the novels of British author J.R.R. Tolkien, including "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings."
Nee's real passion is science fiction, an interest that began when he served as president of a science fiction book club at Palo Alto High School more than 40 years ago.
His involvement grew while he was attending UC Berkeley and began doing research into the subject and attending conferences,
Nee later joined Tom Whitmore, a former high school classmate, in opening The Other Change of Hobbit near Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley in 1977.
Nee said he and Whitmore took the store's name at the invitation of a woman who owned a science fiction bookstore in Los Angeles called The Change of Hobbit.
"She approached us and said 'I'll lend you my name' if you open a store in the Bay Area," Nee said.
The Kearney Street location is the store's fourth address and the first outside the Berkeley city limits.
"If you're interested in science fiction and fantasy, this is the place to come," Nee said.
About 90 percent of the business is in new books, which Nee obtains from distributors or directly from publishers. He buys used books to resell almost exclusively from people who bring their collections into the store. Nee also buys and sells first editions and also does consignment sales of first editions and other valuable volumes.
The top price he ever received was $14,000 for a three-volume set of the original British edition of "Lord of the Rings" about 30 years ago. A similar set of those volumes in the same condition now would run from $30,000 to $50,000, Nee said.
"A woman brought the set into the store and at first I didn't believe what she was saying about they're being first editions," he said. "Her father was a merchant seaman and carried them around in a trunk wherever he went."
Nee has several favorite science fiction authors, including San Francisco resident Fritz Leiber, author of "The Wanderer," one of the first novels about what would happen if a meteor were about to hit earth, he said.
"Leiber's concern was about people and the effects of science and advances in technology," Nee said.
Another Nee favorite is Philip K. Dick, whose novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" was adopted into the 1982 science-fiction movie "Blade Runner."
"Dick was a satirist of incredible power," Nee said. "He was also concerned about the effect of technology on humans and society."
The Other Change of Hobbit
WHAT: Science fiction and fantasy bookstore
WHERE: 1600 Kearney St. at Potrero Avenue, El Cerrito
HOURS: 4-7 p.m. weekdays; noon-5 p.m. weekends