Bookstore gets set for move

An 18-month effort to replace a drab former gas station with a modern custom literary emporium is about to finally pay off for a pair of La Cañada Flintridge residents.

Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse owners Peter and Lenora Wannier expect to open their new and expanded Foothill Boulevard location on Monday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating a new chapter in the city’s literary life.

While the move from a leased location at Foothill and Angeles Crest Highway to the one they built up the street at Foothill and Chevy Chase Drive takes them not much further than next door, the Wanniers hope to go miles in expanding the bookstore’s role in the community.

“It’s not an accident that we chose to relocate across from the La Cañada Flintridge Community Center. It makes us a literary community center in a kind of way, which is what this town has never convincingly had,” said Peter Wannier, a retired Caltech astronomy professor and JPL research scientist.

To advance that line of thinking, The Wanniers have long planned increasing their selection of titles, including a selection of collectible vintage books, and offering an dedicated readings and special-events area independent from the din of the store’s coffee and pastry counter.

The new Flintridge Books will also be one two locations in California to boast an Espresso Book Machine, a type of miniature digital printing press allowing users to download, print and bind long-out-of-print titles or upload and publish copies of their own work.

“Dissemination of knowledge is something really important to us. We feel that the printed word is important, and the value we bring is matching the right person to the right book,” said Lenora Wannier, a librarian who specialized in rare books and manuscripts.

The Wanniers leased the location of their present store in 2007 following Peter’s retirement, but the bibliophiles had already started making plans for the new property after purchasing the land two years earlier.

Starting from scratch on empty land that had once held a gas station and then a makeshift flower shop proved a daunting and expensive task — and one full of delays and surprises.

New utility lines needed to be installed. Soil thought to have been project-ready had been contaminated by the gas station and truckload after truckload needed to be hauled. Requirements for parking for disabled people forced addition of an elevator to carry patrons between the store and its below-ground parking area — a $120,000 surprise.

And as of Tuesday, there were still glitches with the doors and new street trees had yet to be planted.

To date, the project’s price-tag has exceeded $1 million, Peter Wannier said.

“Everything has been far slower than we ever imagined. We were supposed to finish last August,” he said. “We’re still happy to be here, but had I known it would have been this long and expensive, I might have had second thoughts.”

Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Pat Anderson is happy the Wanniers stuck it out.

“It’s exciting to see such a beautiful new business on a very significant corner in the middle of our town. I’m anxious to for them to open and continue to thrive in our community,” she said.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony takes place at 2 p.m. Monday.

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