David Morris, owner of the Bread Garden bakery, stands in his store in Berkeley on Friday March 23, 2007.  After 36 years in business in Berkeley, Calif.
David Morris, owner of the Bread Garden bakery, stands in his store in Berkeley on Friday March 23, 2007. After 36 years in business in Berkeley, Calif. the bakery is in danger of closing because of competition, not the recession. (Sean Connelley/The Oakland Tribune)

One East Bay institution reopens, another institution threatens to close. And I don't know about you, but I like beer with my baguettes, especially with sausage and mustard.

You read in this column space Sunday how the Kingfish, Oakland's funky saloon, will open again for business Saturday after a 19-month hiatus.

Bad news always follows good news, because the Bread Garden, Berkeley's esteemed bakery, is in danger of shutting down and moving to Marin County.

Sacre bleu! The Bread Garden introduced the French baguette to the East Bay in 1973. My wife won't buy wheat bread anyplace else, and I'd be lost without the best peanut butter cookies on the planet. I might stop eating sweets altogether.

What happened to the Bread Garden? It's right there on the counter as you enter: a statement from owner David Morris, who doesn't blame the recession, not one breadcrumb.

The Bread Garden's 30-year lease expires next year. Morris, 62, has an option to renew, but because of declining business, this isn't his intention at the moment.

The problem is competition. When Morris founded the Bread Garden 36 years ago, there were three bakeries within a two-mile distance of his; now there are nine, with a 10th on the way. He explains it best with a baking metaphor.

"The size of the pie has stayed the same; there's as many customers in the area as there ever was," he said. "But the number of slices being taken out of it has increased, so that the Bread Garden's slice of the pie has been getting progressively smaller year by year."

Thus the bakery's business has been declining for 15 years, but never more precipitously than now, with fewer customers and its lowest sales in 30 years.

If business doesn't improve the last half of this year, Morris will inform the landlord he's not renewing, then sell his house and move out of Berkeley to a spot on or near the Marin coast, where he'll relocate the Bread Garden.

He ends his statement with this bread-or-bust plea: "Help us get more customers in the door. Ask your friends and neighbors to shop here. Buy your pastries here rather than at Peet's, and your bread here rather than at a supermarket."

How have his regulars responded to this statement?

"A lot of people don't see it," he said. "They don't look around. They look at the spot they always look at, the things they always buy."

He thought of moving his pastries around, to make customers look elsewhere — like upward at the statement. But he bakes 80 different items daily, so it would take too much work.

Peet's is adjacent the Bread Garden across from the Berkeley Tennis Club and Claremont Resort. Morris doesn't hide his annoyance with Peet's pastries.

"They're baked yesterday and delivered at night, before we even start baking ours," he said. "They're all day-old pastries sold at the counter. When I asked Peet's why are they doing this, they said, 'Well, some people don't want to wait in two lines.'"

Even with declining business, the Bread Garden didn't finish in the red until 2008.

"And this year is looking a little worse than last year," Morris noted. "At this rate, I'd be crazy to sign up for more of this. I was the first (baguette baker in the East Bay), but it doesn't mean anything."

Yet the Bread Garden, like the Kingfish, represents tradition. Doesn't that stand for anything?

"Well, it remains to be seen," Morris said. "Ask me at the end of the year when I see if there has been any effect from this. I have long relationships with people in the area, and the second half of this year is when (they've) got to do something about it."

Or else.

Dave Newhouse's columns appear Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays. Know any Good Neighbors? Phone 510-208-6466 or e-mail dnewhouse@bayareanewsgroup.com.