Rolling into new digs

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, for The Observer March 06, 2013 08:37 am

Mountain Works owner Whit Hartz poses at the bike shopís new location in the Bohnenkamp Building at 1301 Adams Ave. in La Grande.  CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer
Mountain Works owner Whit Hartz poses at the bike shopís new location in the Bohnenkamp Building at 1301 Adams Ave. in La Grande. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer

by BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / for The Observer 

Mountain Works bike shop moves from its cramped confines to the spacious and historic Bohnenkamp Building 

LA GRANDE — An often-vacant but historically significant building in the middle of downtown La Grande has resumed its commercial life, becoming home for The Mountain Works bike shop and outdoors store.

Mountain Works owner Whit Hartz had a lot of stuff to move, but on the upside, he didn’t have far to go. The Bohnenkamp Building at 1301 Adams, his business’s new location, is just a few steps west of his former location at 1307. 

Hartz started moving last Friday. Already the spacious new digs, taking up the first floor and the mezzanine of the Bohnenkamp Building, look like home.

“We had an army of volunteers to help us out. I had huge help from the community and our friends,” Hartz said.

Hartz said space had become a real issue at the old location. The Mountain Works’ main stock in trade is bicycles, but Hartz has been expanding steadily since he and his wife, Mavis, became owners last year. They’ve added more bike accessories, more outdoor gear, and recently branched out into ski and snowboard sales and repair.

The old location was so crowded, people often had to move bikes to get to accessories on the walls. Repaired bikes hung from hooks in front of the repair shop, which itself was small and cramped.

Hartz said the move solves a whole world of problems.

“With the mezzanine, this is at least twice the space we had,” he said.

“Not only that, we can expand more if we want to. This gives us room to grow.”

The Mountain Works is one of downtown La Grande’s older businesses, started by Pete and Eileen Palavos in 1977. A fire in the early 1980s forced the Palovos to move the enterprise from the west end of Adams to 1307 Adams in the heart of downtown.

In 2006, Whit and Mavis Hartz partnered with Mavis’ parents, Kim and Anita Metlin, to buy The Mountain Works. The Metlins retired last year, leaving Whit and Mavis sole proprietors. During its busy season, spring and summer, the store employs up to five full and part time employees. In addition to bike, ski and snowboard sales, it features a full service repair shop.

The Bohnenkamp Building, constructed between 1897-1900, served for decades as the home of W.H. Bohnenkamp’s furniture and hardware store.

Bohnenkamp had moved to La Grande from Iowa in 1890, started his business at a location on the south side of Adams between Fir and Elm Streets.

This photo depicts how the Bohnenkamp Building looked in 1913. The building was constructed between 1897 and 1900 and served for decades as the home of W.H. Bohnenkampís furniture and hardware store.
This photo depicts how the Bohnenkamp Building looked in 1913. The building was constructed between 1897 and 1900 and served for decades as the home of W.H. Bohnenkampís furniture and hardware store.

He bought the building at 1301 Adams in February, 1900. A disastrous fire in September, 1913 forced reconstruction of the building above the first floor.

The building, anchoring the corner of Adams Avenue and Elm Street, falls within La Grande’s historic business district and is on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic contributing building.

Bohnenkamp and later his sons operated the family business well into the 20th century, but eventually it died out. A succession of businesses have moved in and out over the years, and in recent times the building has been idle more often than not.

Most recently, the ground floor was used by Clark and Company, a furniture dealer. Clark and Company moved out at the end of 2012.

The building’s upper floors aren’t up to current city codes and are vacant. Hartz, though, is happy with the room he does have, including the large basement that is available for storage.

The bike and ski showroom and the repair shop take up the first floor, while clothing, rock-climbing equipment, outdoor gear and more are displayed on the mezzanine.

“I’m extremely happy with the layout of the shop, though we’re still dealing with the logistics of the move. It’s great, but we’ve got a lot of loose ends to tie up,” Hartz said.

The building is owned by Joel Rice, a La Grande mental health professional. Hartz said he is renting now, but has an option to buy.