News and notes from around town:
• A longtime downtown bookseller is entering its final chapter. The Vagabond Bookstore, 1113 Mass., is in the process of closing after 18 years in business. Owner Howard Hartog said he’s 71 years old and it was time to scale back. He’ll continue to operate a book warehouse in eastern Lawrence and will continue to travel to about 20 book shows a year around the country. But Hartog is looking to sell the 30,000 books that make up the store’s inventory. The store specializes in older books by authors such as Harold Bell Wright, Gene Stratton Porter, Zane Grey, Willa Cather, and writers from The Beat Generation.
Hartog said he’s reached a preliminary deal to sell the building to a real estate investor, whom he did not identify. Hartog said he doesn’t believe there are any pending plans for a new business to locate in the shop, which right across the street from Douglas County Courthouse.
Hartog said he hopes to find a collector or entrepreneur who will buy his 30,000-book collection, but he’s continuing to sell books on an individual basis. He’s not sure when the shop will close for good, but it likely will be in the spring, absent a major buyer emerging before then.
Hartog said the book business has been hit hard by the economic downturn, and that’s on top of a general decline in independently owned bookstores.
“There have been 14 bookstores go out of business in Lawrence in the 18 years that I’ve been here,” Hartog said.
But Hartog said the business has been rewarding.
“I’ve probably most enjoyed that people have been willing to put up with me,” he said.
• The recently renovated Carnegie Library at Ninth and Vermont streets seems to be on its way to becoming a hit as a downtown reception spot.
In the one month that the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has been accepting reservations for the facility, it has been reserved six times.
“It really could not be going any better,” said Tim Laurent, who oversees facilities for Parks and Recreation.
Wedding receptions are the big event thus far for the building. People can rent the main room of the facility for $525 for 6 hours and can add additional hours for $50 per hour. In addition to wedding receptions, a mental health group and a private belly-dancing instructor have reserved the building for meetings.
The main room of the building can seat 170 people and accommodate a small dance floor. A smaller room on the main floor can seat another 45. The city does allow alcohol to be served at the location, although events are prohibited from selling alcohol at the facility.
The first event at the remodeled building is expected to take place in mid-January.
• In other news from Parks and Recreation, the down economy hasn’t ended up hurting participation in the department’s classes and sports leagues. Interim Director Ernie Shaw said recreation fees are expected to be up $60,000 from last year. At the beginning of this summer, that didn’t appear to be the case. Recreation fees were lagging 2009 totals, and the department implemented a 5 percent budget cut to keep its finances in balance. The end result is the second half rebound has allowed the department to grow its reserve funds.
• It's doubtful the city-operated Eagle Bend Golf Course will break even this year. Parks and Recreation leaders are estimating the course will have operating revenues fall about $15,000 short of expenses. But staff members said they find the results acceptable, given poor weather and an economy that has slowed the nation's golf industry. The course has posted an operating profit for the last several years and has built up about $300,000 reserve fund. The $15,000 shortfall will come out of the reserve fund. The course continues to have its debt that was used to build the course paid out of a separate city fund.
Course leaders also are tweaking a popular pass program for 2011 in hopes of generating more revenue. The course has offered an annual pass that allows golfers to play all the golf they want. In the past, that pass has been good seven day per week. In 2011, the pass only will be valid Monday through Friday. The hope is that will make more space available on the weekends for people who are paying the full green fee rate.
• Two planning items mentioned in Town Talk on Monday are heading to the Lawrence City Commission. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission at their Monday evening meeting approved new regulations regarding boarding houses, and changes to a part of the city’s apartment zoning regulations. City commissioners now are expected to give final consideration to the proposals within the next several weeks. The boarding house proposal was approved by planning commissioners on an 8-1 vote. The apartment zoning changes were approved on a 6-3 vote.
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