BOOKS AND POOL

August 13, 2003 12:00 am
Benjamin Brown Books and Billiards owner Greg Johnson converses about books in his shop that sells used hardcovers, paperbacks, vintage comic books and pre-owned music CDs.  (The Observer/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH).
Benjamin Brown Books and Billiards owner Greg Johnson converses about books in his shop that sells used hardcovers, paperbacks, vintage comic books and pre-owned music CDs. (The Observer/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH).

By Bill Rautenstrauch

Observer Staff Writer

reg Johnson is a man of many passions.

He loves books, music and, incongruously enough, the game of pool. And he loves history. He loves the history of just about anything under the sun.

What's more, Johnson is the kind of businessman who believes the key to fulfillment in life is to parlay passions into profits.

So it is that the 35-year-old Klamath Falls product is the proprietor of Benjamin Brown Books and Billiards, a happily crowded little enterprise on Fir Street in downtown La Grande.

The shop, housed in ground-floor rental space, is named in honor of the pioneer who founded La Grande in 1862. It opened about 10 months ago.

Used hardcovers and paperbacks are its staple offering, with some vintage comic books and pre-owned music CDs thrown in to sweeten an idle hour's browsing.

"It's a general bookstore," Johnson said. "We don't specialize in any one thing, though we are stronger in some categories than in others."

Just now, you can't play pool at the establishment, but if Johnson realizes his dreams, someday there will be a pool hall in the upstairs portion of the building.

Johnson knows it will take awhile to put his expansion plans in motion.

In the meantime, he functions as a sort of pool specialist, selling, servicing and repairing new, used and antique tables and equipment. Most of that work he does out of his home.

Books and pool may seem an odd mix to some, but not to Johnson, who became interested in the indoor sport after studying its history.

"It's an old, old game and I love its history. I got involved initially because of an interest in antique pool tables," he said.

Johnson, 35, was born in Klamath Falls and raised in Gladstone.

After graduation from Gladstone High, he earned a degree in jazz studies at the University of North Texas.

In the late 1990s, he ran a billiards supply business in Eugene. But the pace of life in that city finally became more than he and his wife cared to handle.

"Eugene had gotten out of control. We wanted someplace slower," he said.

Johnson, his wife and four children picked La Grande, a city that was attractive because it had "more space."

When they moved, they brought with them Johnson's 7,000-volume book collection.

At the time, however, Johnson

wasn't thinking about a bookstore.

He first tried his hand at a couple of home-based businesses. They failed to pan out, yielding only what Johnson terms "diminishing returns." Then he hit on the idea of a combination bookstore and billiards business.

"Maybe it is a strange combination, but it works for me," Johnson said. "Neither business by itself makes much money, but my thinking is that the two of them together can."

Some books from his personal library became part of the inventory. He bought many more, and continues to buy today.

"I go on buying trips whenever I can. I get them from wherever you might find a used book for sale, including estate sales. I buy from book scouts, and sometimes, from people who come through the door," he said.

Johnson said that when he told friends about his plans to open a bookstore, they were less than enthusiastic.

"People looked at me kind of funny and said, ‘We've already got a used bookstore in town.' There were a lot of skeptics."

He added, "I think it's good there are two. That's just one more reason for people to get off the freeway in

La Grande."

Benjamin Brown Books and Billiards is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday.-Friday and 12 noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.