New Flintridge Bookstore taking shape

A new commercial development at Foothill Boulevard and Chevy Chase Drive that will house the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffee House is expected to open for business shortly after the holidays, owners Peter and Lenora Wannier said this week.

The La Cañada Flintridge City Council tentatively agreed Monday to absorb about 30% of costs, or roughly $30,000, of off-site improvements for the project, including landscaping elements and street lighting.

"This project is really a masterful project for the city, in my opinion," Councilman Dave Spence said to Peter Wannier. "It has been a horribly ugly corner for years and years, and we do appreciate your efforts and your financial support in making this look like a piece of property that belongs in La Cañada Flintridge."

The new building is taking shape even as bookstores, both independent and franchised, close their doors and electronic reading devices become increasingly popular.

"I think that [an independent bookstore] makes us a little bit unique, because most of the bookstores have gone the way of the buggy whip," said Pat Anderson, chief operating officer of the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce. "A lot of people like to go into a bookstore, they like the aroma of a bookstore. There is something about feeling the books and thumbing through the pages."

The Wanniers purchased the 12,800-square-feet corner lot at 1010 Foothill Blvd. in 2006. In the summer of 2007, they opened the Flintridge Bookstore just a few doors down (in a space that used to be the Totta & Sons Automotive Center) with the intent of moving to the new location shortly thereafter.

But there were unexpected delays, Peter Wannier said. The site was once a gas station, and as excavation began, contractors found corroded fuel tanks. They had to suspend work and remove 1,000 cubic yards of petroleum-contaminated soil.

In addition, in April 2009 a big-rig truck veered out of control while traveling south on Angeles Crest Highway and crashed into the bookstore's current location, destroying merchandise and disrupting business.

Nevertheless, the Wanniers have remained true to their love of reading, and to seeing the development through to completion. The new bookstore will occupy a little more than 6,000 square feet, Lenora Wannier said, and will be anchored on the northwest corner by a 30-foot-tall clock tower. The single-story development will include an outdoor parking lot to the rear of the site and a covered parking lot underneath the building, as well as a handicap-access elevator and ramps.

In addition, the Wanniers plan on installing an Espresso Book Machine that will allow customers to select from 1.5 million titles and print the book on site.

"It can print a 350-page book in 10 minutes, and bind it with a full cover like a regular book," said Sandy Willardson, head of marketing at Flintridge Bookstore. "So all the books that you can't get that are out of print, or if you have a book you want to publish yourself, you just put a disk in there and it prints your book in about 10 minutes and you get a finished copy."

The bookstore is a natural outgrowth of the Wanniers' life-long love of books and pursuit of scholarship. An astrophysicist, Peter Wannier taught astronomy and physics, both abroad and at Caltech, for more than three decades. Lenora Wannier was trained as a librarian. Together, they raised four book-loving kids.

"We only had the television turned on on weekends," Peter Wannier said. "I made it clear that if the television went on during the week, I would throw it in the swimming pool. And that encouraged reading. That sounds a bit draconian, I suppose, but on the other hand, my children are all well-read and did very well in school."

Building a bookstore while consumers are snapping up iPads and Kindles might seem like an anomaly, Peter Wannier said. But people like the tactile experience of holding a book in their hands, marking up interesting passages, dog-earing a page, and flipping back to earlier passages. And you don't have to worry about dropping and breaking a paperback novel like you would with an electronic reader, he added.

"So we may be a bit of a throwback," Peter Wannier said. "On the other hand, I don't think people are going to give up on the printed page. Electronic files aren't the end-all, be-all. Sometimes when people get them, they direct them to their printer and print them."

In a few short years, the Wanniers have built valuable relationships within the community. The Flintridge Bookstore stocks titles used by La Cañada public and private schools, Peter Wannier said, something that doesn't happen at places like Borders.

"We respond to our local community," Peter Wannier said. "Big chain bookstores don't. When you go to Barnes & Noble, you are buying a selection of books that were chosen by a crew of people in an office building somewhere on the East Coast. They work with publishers to get very, very low prices so they can get maximum profit, and those are the books that sell everywhere."

The Wanniers said they believe deeply in the power of books to help people learn, and the bookstore allows them the satisfaction of contributing to a community-wide commitment to academic excellence.

"I view us as part of the extended education system in this town," Peter Wannier said. "Getting young people to read is definitely a part of our goal."

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