Jon Hancock does some painting in preparation for the mid-February opening of the JaxDog Café at Looking Glass Books. (BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH photo)
Jessica and Gregory Bogard are giving a nod to the past and looking ahead to the future as they get set for a major remodel of their Looking Glass Books store downtown.
On Saturday, the couple will temporarily close the business and move all their main floor inventory — including an estimated 40,000 books — to a location up the street. Then they’ll pitch in on an improvement and expansion project that will include restoring the floor to its original condition, and establishing a café in the loft in back.
Jessica Bogard said she and her husband were inspired to do the project when they happened across a 1903 photograph of the interior of the building their business sits in, at 1118 Adams Ave.
Bogard said the aim is to restore the retail space to its former glory.
“The picture showed the original wood floors, and skylights. We want to bring back that beauty,” she said.
The skylights aren’t coming back in the current project, though the frames are still in the roof and restoration is possible at some point. Bogard said that for now, the thrust will be refinishing the original fir wood floors, which are now mostly covered with carpet and a couple layers of linoleum.
It’s a big, ambitious project that will begin promptly on Saturday.
That day, the Bogards and a host of volunteers will move everything that’s in the way to the old Renegade building at 1106 Adams Avenue. The Renegade, named for a bar and restaurant that used to do business there, is currently owned by the City of La Grande and sits vacant.
Once the Looking Glass inventory’s been moved and stored, Peter Clark, a local blacksmith who also does renovation and remodeling work, will get busy on the floors. At the same time, Jon Hancock, a long-time local food service specialist, will be working feverishly to get his new café opened in the bookstore’s rear loft.
A café in Looking Glass was tried once before, but the venture failed. Bogard said she thinks Hancock has all the right ideas and can make a go of it.
“We’ve interviewed a lot of people, and we’ve been real picky. We wanted someone with a vision and a plan,” she said.
Looking Glass Books owner Jessica Bogard helps customer Jim Thompson Monday. Bogard and her husband, Gregory, will close the store temporarily in February to refinish floors and add a café. in the rear-area loft.
Hancock, whose long career in food service has included work at Foley Station as pastry chef and at Mt. Emily Ale House as kitchen manager, said he’s calling his new business JaxDog Café in honor of a favorite dog that died of cancer.
Hancock said the location feels right, and he likes it that some kitchen infrastructure is already in place.
“I’ve been working in restaurants about 20 years, and I figured it’s about time to open my own shop,” he said. He said JaxDog Café will be open for breakfast and lunch. Quiche dishes and cinnamon rolls will make up part of the menu for breakfast, and for lunch Hancock plans to offer soups and daily specials. Seating will be available both upstairs and down.
Hancock said he hopes to be ready for business sometime around mid-month.
Bogard, meanwhile, is shooting to have the flooring done and the bookstore open again on Feb. 15, though that date is tentative.
She said members of Eastern Oregon University’s KEOL Club, the River Valley Roller Vixens and others have volunteered to help with the moving, and that more volunteers are welcome.
Under different owners, different names and at a couple of different locations, Looking Glass Books has been feeding the heads of La Grande’s intellectually curious for about 20 years. When the Bogards bought the business in 2010, it was owned by Jessica Lackaff and known as Earth ‘N’ Books.
The Bogards have made many changes, a significant one being the inter-shelving of new and used books. In former times, the store dealt heavily in used titles, but now, new books make up about 40 percent of the inventory. Bogard said there are between 36,000-45,000 titles on the shelves.
Bogard said she and her husband have worked hard to give the store a special ambiance, and make it a social place for the community. She said it’s not rare for an Eastern Oregon University student to come in on a weekend, take up some comfortable seat, and do homework.
Local artwork adorns the walls, and the store is a stop in the downtown First Friday Art Walks. In addition, book authors frequently appear at Looking Glass for signings.
“We try to make it friendly for people who come in and want to stay,” Bogard said.
Cove resident Jim Thompson stopped in Monday, saying he’s a frequent Looking Glass customer who likes both the atmosphere and the service. “If they don’t have a book, they’ll find it. They’re extremely helpful that way,” Thompson said.
Reports that bookstores have been hurt by the rise of electronic readers are common, but Bogard said the devices don’t necessarily spell doom for store owners. She said that applies especially to small, independently owned stores that can give customer service a personal touch.
Bogard said she and her husband feel fortunate to be doing business in a community that values books and a neighborhood bookstore. She added that she is optimistic about the future of downtown La Grande, because people do support local businesses.
“We have a wonderful community that will follow you through anything,” she said.
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