Annapurna and its owner Al Geyer have been part of Telegraph Avenue for 50 years.
Annapurna was from the start part head shop, part import store.
The accepted narrative is that the first head shop in the United States was the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street in San Francisco, which opened in January 1966, founded and operated by United States Army veteran Ron Thelin and his younger brother Jay, The Psychedelic Shop quickly became one of the unofficial community centers for the burgeoning hippie/freak population.
Four months later Jeff and Betsey Glick opened “Head Shop” on East Ninth Street in New York City.
Also in 1966, The Birmingham Balloon Company opened at 113 Fry Street in Denton, Texas.
There were several head shops in Berkeley in 1969. Piggy Maloni’s shop on University thrived.
History lesson ends. Back to our main story.
Geyer and his friend Richard Erickson were in Nepal in 1968.
Nepal was hardly known by the west.
In their wanderings, they saw and bought two lost-wax cast temple lions. Lost-wax casting (also called “investment casting”, “precision casting”, or cire perdue which has been adopted into English from the French) is the process by which a duplicate metal sculpture (often silver, gold, brass or bronze) is cast from an original sculpture. Intricate works can be achieved by this method.
They came across a business called Nepal Traditional Crafts. located in the ancient city of Lalitpur in the Kathmandu Valley. It was owned by the Rana brothers, grandchildren of the former lifetime dictator, descendants of Commanding General His Highness Shree Shree Shree Maharaja Sir Jung Bahadur Kunwar Ranaj. Their father was the first Nepali to earn a doctorate. He was head of the first educational system in Nepal before coming to Berkeley.
Chartered in 1964, its mission was to provides jobs for a large network of low–income producer groups and economically underprivileged people in Nepal, and helps keep the traditional crafts of the region alive. Artisans receive fair prices, medical benefits, loans, paid leave, retirement benefits, children’s scholarships and skill development training.
Geyer and Erickson had an idea – import crafts from Nepal and sell them in Berkeley.
They met the brothers who owned Nepal Traditional Crafts. They were trying to get into the export business and in face had a container of crafts on its way to Berkeley without a consignee.
Why not our heroes? As fate would have it, they were on the same airplane flight from Japan to Hawaii as was one of the Nepal Traditional Crafts brothers. Kismet! A deal was made.
Two Steps Up was a hippie boutique on Haste Street just below Telegraph. Two Steps Up had rented space in the basement of the Berkeley Inn at Telegraph and Haste, with steps leading down to the entrance along Telegraph.
Geyer paid Two Steps Up $500 for their inventory and business and moved into the Berkeley Inn basement.
Working in the heart of Telegraph, Geyer had a close-up view of People’s Park. When construction of the park started on April 20, 1969, Geyer was running his shop half a block away; he observed.
On May 15th as protestors marched down Telegraph to reclaim the park, some marchers stood in front of Katmandu protecting the windows from possible vandalism. A Channel 9 reporter came into the Berkeley Inn and asked Geyer, “Is my life at risk?”
The store featured Nepalese imports. Slowly Katmandu expanded from room to room in the warren below the Berkeley Inn.
In 1972, Geyer and Erickson opened Annapurna on the west side of Telegraph in what had been Virginia Cleaners.
Annapurna is a massif in the Himalayas in north-central Nepal A massif is a compact group of mountains, especially a group that is separate from other groups.
Erickson left the business in 1974. Geyer left the space in the Berkeley Inn in 1976 and for ten years operated his wholesale business (Berkeley Pipeline) out of a space on Fourth Street until 1989.
Fifty years of life on Telegraph is hundreds of years elsewhere.
The store is as visual as anything you will find. As in – totally visual. Why not start with marijuana pipes? They are very visual.
These are gorgeous, no? Highly visual, no?
The last two photos provide a glorious juxtaposition – sex toys and an old travel poster to Tibet. Which is it, folks?
Moving into landscape orientation for the photos, we will start with imports.
Punky Colour promises temporary hair change effect with heat-activated temporary hair color
This is one of my favorite photographs that John Storey has ever made. I love it. I suggest that you click on the photo – it will go full screen and BLOW YOU AWAY.
Now – more.
Even Geyer’s pipe cleaners look beautiful.
Signs in the store provide comic relief.
Many stores have photos of celebrity visitors. So too Annapurna.
Earl T. Stevens, better known by his stage name E-40, is a rapper and actor.
He is a founding member of the rap group The Click, and the founder of Sick Wid It Records.
Gregory Jacobs, known professionally as Shock G (and his alter ego Humpty Hump), is a musician, rapper, and lead vocalist for the hip hop group Digital Underground. He is responsible for Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance”, 2Pac’s single “I Get Around”, and co-producer of 2Pac’s debut album 2Pacalypse Now. He found the novelty nose with glasses in Annapurna and it was the inspiration for his character Humpty Hump.
Let’s back up and catch up, looking at Al Geyer’s life and some of the highlights of his 50 years with Annapurna on Telegraph.
Geyer grew up in East Oakland.
Geyer’s father Alfred was born to German Immigrant parents in San Francisco in 1904. He worked driving Caterpillars for 50 cents a day during the Great Depression. He eventually became a marine electrician, a member and eventually executive board member of Local 595 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He worked at the Todd Shipyard in Alameda.
Geyer: “My father did not finish the third grade. His experience was of a man who worked hard with little choice. He made me strong and resilient in a German father way, but thought I should keep my hopes and dreams in check and be realistic. He came around in his old age to accept and be proud of my adventures. When my dad saw I had interests such as classical music or books he would encourage and support me. He was politically savvy probably from his union work and being a lifelong Democrat. Looking at the world from real experiences, he did not trust the power elites.”
Geyer’s mother was a nurse.
Geyer: “My mother, Sadie Danials, was born in 1908 in Manhattan, Kansas on the family farm that they had homesteaded in 1869. When her dad died she came to Sacramento to live with an aunt.
She went to Sacramento State and got her RN degree and practiced nursing a good 50 years. My parents married in their late 30’s as my mother was a widow and my dad had not settled down. They met dancing in Oakland and eloped a mouth later as they just decided to make a life together
“My mother was a flapper in the 20’s and had been around the Big Band scene as her first husband was the drummer for Horace Heidt and His Musical Knights. She was a head floor nurse at Peralta Hospital and we lived at 29th and Telegraph until i was eight when we moved to the Fruitvale district. She had many famous people who she had met or cared for in her life but was really just a good midwestern girl and was wonderful to all. When I was young she worked in homes as a private duty RN, taking care of well-known people such as Joseph Knowland of the Oakland Tribune and Henry Kaiser. She took care of Mrs Creed, the widow of Kaiser’s head engineer.
“Mrs. Creed would send me things to read. When I went to Europe in 1967 for three months, my parents gave me the $2000 it cost. I learned later that Mrs. Creed had given them $1000 of that $2000.
“My mother would not let me fail, and always said that anything is possible if you work at it and have a calling. She spoke of many positive examples from her life and the successful people she had known.”
Geyer would have graduated from high school in 1963 had he graduated from high school, He did not.
Instead, he studied “all things Channel 9.” He came to love classical music.
Charles Munch, music director of of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was a favorite. Munch was an Alsacian, German-born French symphonic conductor and violinist who was noted for his mastery of the French orchestral repertoire.
Geyer was drawn to the pre-hippie, somewhat intellectual Bohemian scene.
Jack Parr, an early disruptive presence on television, was a guide.
When he was 16 he saw Lenny Bruce at the Curran Theatre.
It was the first show after Bruce’s arrest on September 29, 1961 in Philadelphia for possession of narcotics. When the police entered Bruce’s hotel room they asked him what the bag of white powder was. Bruce told them – aspirin. They asked what the needles were for. “I can’t stand the taste of the stuff.” That’s quick thinking.
This is audio of the Curran performance.
Geyer saw Mort Sahl in North Beach many times.
He attended workshops with Del Close and The Committee in San Francisco. Close was still developing his long-form improvisation; Geyer performed with the troop on Haste Street in 1968.
In this general time period, Geyer read and was heavily influenced by Edward de Bono’s concept of “lateral thinking, a manner of solving problems using an indirect and creative approach and reasoning that is not immediately obvious.” It involves ideas that may not be obtainable using only traditional step-by-step logic. De Bono cites the Judgment of Solomon as an example, where King Solomon resolves a dispute over the parentage of a child by calling for the child to be cut in half, and making his judgment based on the reactions that this order produced. .
Meanwhile, Geyer held his only two nine-to-five jobs in his life, with the American Can Company and at a record store. He says that between 1962 and 1967 he “failed, failed, failed.”
Geyer attended Merritt College on what was then old Grove Street in Oakland from 1965-1968 and then went to Call State Hayward in 1969. At Merritt he became involved in politics, fighting the dominance of the Freddy Frat faction..
He worked in support of Jefferson Poland (the Sexual Freedom League) and black activists. He ran for student body presidentl and lost, coming to understand Jefferson Poland’s advice that if you expect to be rewarded for doing the right thing, don’t go into politics.
Geyer: “A few months after opening Kathmandu, I was overwhelmed with my new venture and the political happenings so I quit and focused on what for me, with my dyslexia, seemed a more interesting and productive future.”
Between 1967 and the early 1970s, Geyer traveled extensively, in Europe, Egypt, and Asia – Nepal, Cambodia, Hong Kong and India.
Richard Erickson’s father was in the Punjab with the Ford Foundation working on birth control.
Shortly after Geyer opened Katmandu, he went with friends to the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on Saturday, December 6, 1969. The concert featured (in order of appearance): Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and the Rolling Stones taking as the final act. The Grateful Dead were also scheduled to perform but declined to play shortly before their scheduled appearance due to the increasing violence.
Shown in this photo are Ulrich Hess (a German student in electrical engineering), Linda Moiseyev, Erickson, and Geyer. When a member of the Hells Angels stabbed and killed Hunter Meredith as Meredith charged the stage with a pistol in his hand, many declared that the Sixties were over.
Geyer and Erickson went to Nepal in 1970. When Geyer returned to the United States, he motored around the country visiting head shops in college towns. He pitched and sold Katmandu goods and had his products in most of the 50 states. Katmandu focused on imports and counterculture material for the first few years – card racks, material on black history, Jung, and other cultural items.
The early years on Telegraph were trying. There was an aggressive youth scene on Telegraph Avenue, and Al Geyer threw both the Red Rockets and Super Joel out of his store.
As the 1960s faded in the rearview mirror as hard drugs and needles took the place of hippie drugs, Annapurna evolved.
In the early 1970s, Annapurna was part import store, part head shop. Allen Ginsberg was a customer. He loved the bronzes and bought a number of them.
He borrowed Geyer’s Tibetan thighbone trumpet to use in a recording he was making.
In 1976, Geraldo Rivera interviewed Geyer in front of Annapurna for Good Morning America.
In 1979, California and the federal government both made drug paraphernalia (“an object used for unlawfully injecting or smoking a controlled substance”) illegal, changing Annapurna’s product line and sales approaches. Geyer is proud that he never made a dirty sale, or never “broke” a sale. He was a member and eventually chairman of the board of the California Progressive Business Association which fought paraphernalia laws. The issue was lost in a case from Missoula, Montana; Solicitor General Kenneth Starr (yes that Starr), The metal pipes, bongs, and wooden pipes came off the shelves into the back room.
In 1982, Geyer led an effort to place an initiative on the California ballot rolling back laws governing and prohibiting the sale of drug paraphernalia. The initiative did not attract the necessary number of signatures to qualify it for the ballot. He has worked long and hard with fellow merchants to keep Telegraph vital, including organizing a field trip to Haight Street in San Francisco to compare notes.
Geyer has navigated and survived an ever-changing landscape, as Berkeley police first backed off enforcement of marijuana laws, then internet sales, then legalization of medical marijuana, and now full legalization.
The store remains highly visual with all kinds of music played. For a while, Geyer ran an internet radio station at www.AnnapurnaLive.com.
Geyer has been gifted with several strong, competent young women working at Annapurna over the years.
Rae Cherones was one.
Bekah Son was another.
And Sara Wedemeyer was a Berkeley High graduate who was “truly a person guided by her heart. She worked full-time for a few months in 2007, but stayed involved pitching in as needed and being supportive of the young staff until moving to Ashland in 2015 where she works in a small independent pet store.
Bopha Ul was store manager from 2001 to 2007. Geyer: “Her mom was a Cambodian refuge who fled the Khmer Rouge by boat to Thailand where Bopha was born. Her mom has a great Cambodian restaurant in San Francisco. Bopha was a wild and strong- minded girl from Oakland at 18 and became an woman here. She was a load and her mom thanked me for stepping up.”
This photo shows Bopha today.
This eight-foot-high giraffe poster was in Annapurna’s window in 2008.
Geyer – “I did it during the great recession in 2008 to inspire. It was very controversial.”
Geyer has endured, even prevailed, for his 50 years on Telegraph. “It’s not really about me but the fact that Annapurna has resonated with so many and that we helped overcome the prohibition of cannabis by embracing alternative views of what is important in our American culture. When we began legalizing cannabis we had 12% in favor now it’s 62%. Thats an average increase of one percent per year! It takes a lifetime to affect change, so the lesson is keep your shoulder to the wheel and give no ground if you believe in something!… As my mom said anything is possible if you persist.”
Fifty years running a shop on Telegraph is just plain amazing and maybe a little nuts. In the 1950s, on Telegraph you could buy out-of-town and even foreign-language newspapers, croissants, espresso drinks, and Turkish cigarettes and Gualoise. You could watch foreign-language films, and play chess, and everywhere was Baroque music and folk music. There were boutiques and haberdasheries and art galleries and mom and pop grocery stores. And the used bookstores! What a world! We were Athens, this was our Bleecker Street – Telegraph was our Boulevard Saint Michel.
Al Geyer – “It was that vibe of an Athens in real time that was reason to move to nearby in ’68. I have hoped to keep as much of hat specialness alive but as the world turns it erases each day. Telegraph was really my idea of 1920’s Paris – a place where interesting people and thinking all gathered but also with social upheaval and a grittiness that reflects the hardship of the common man’s experience.
From John Steinbeck’s prologue to Cannery Row:
Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky-tonks, restaurants and whore-houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flop-houses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peep-hole he might have said: “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.
So here is Al Geyer, saint, angel, martyr and holy man, still crazy after all these years giving his life to Telegraph.
I showed it to my friend. He took his time reading it.
“This is a long one, no? I got something to show you.”
He handed me this:
Me – “I can’t imagine what this has to do with anything. Explain yourself please.”
“Easy as Sunday morning. Gabby just went to a storage locker auction and bought a locker filled with the Do-It-Yourself Beatnik kits advertised here. That’s all. Gabby is looking for ideas about what to do with it all. Any thoughts?”
“Not off the top of my head. I’ll keep it in mind. I’m thinking that there must an angle with the fraternities. For now, could I get your frank and earnest opinion of this post.”