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Bookstore plans broader appeal in bigger building.

Byline: Joe Mosley The Register-Guard

When retail business mixes with community activism, tight spaces usually are the norm. So there's a tendency for imaginations to run just a little wild when the boundaries are pushed outward.

"It's like having a really big handbag," says Karen Luna, manager of Mother Kali's Books in Eugene. "The bigger it is, the more you can put in it."

Mother Kali's - a feminist fixture on East 13th Avenue just west of the University of Oregon campus - will more than double its square footage when it moves later this summer into a building near 18th Avenue and Willamette Street.

The 30-year-old bookstore, operated by a not-for-profit corporation, will take the opportunity to reposition itself somewhat and broaden its reach among the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and progressive communities that have traditionally been its biggest supporters.

Luna says the relocated store - in a building currently divided among 10 office tenants at 1849 Willamette - will continue serving the book-buying needs of its target customers. There also will be room for tea and snacks, book-reading and conversation.

But much of the store's added square footage will be dedicated to space for meetings and classes, as well as headquarters for some of the community groups that serve the store's clientele.

"We had thought of partnering with a variety of groups in town," Luna says. "And then to have this wonderful opportunity come up with basically an entire building to ourselves. ...

"We're doubling our square footage, and we are also lowering our rent."

The nearly 4,800-square-foot building is owned by the same group of retailers that owns the adjacent Meridian retail center, and the hope is that the bookstore will bring new energy to an already growing shopping district.

"From a retail point of view, we do hope it will bring more traffic to the area," says Jim Poverman, who with his wife owns the Folkways women's clothing stores in the Meridian and in the Fifth Street Public Market.

"All the businesses in the Meridian are small and locally owned," he says. "So we felt good about that element of (Mother Kali's relocation). I think we're all going to wait and see how beneficial the play of customers is between us. We're hopeful, but we don't know the extent yet."

Poverman also is one of three partners who own the Meridian building and the next-door structure that will become the bookstore's new home, and from a landlord's perspective the lease to Mother Kali's was an easy decision - even though it meant giving 60-day notices to several long-term office tenants.

"From the point of view of owning a piece of real estate, here we have the opportunity to rent the entire building to one tenant," Poverman says. "There will not be an issue of vacancies. And the retail leasing rate is higher than the office leasing rate."

The extent of the building's renovation will be left up to its new tenants, who say their choices will be driven largely by supporters' willingness to chip in.

Luna says the bookstore is self-sufficient and can afford the move, but amenities at the new location will be decided on "a sliding scale," from the bare minimum to a full wish list.

`There have been some people who have said, `Can I write a check?' and the answer to that is `Absolutely, yes,' ' Luna says. "But we're not out there actively fundraising. We're telling people that if they have a horse trailer, they could come help us on moving day. You can shop here more, or donate bricks for the (Americans With Disabilities) ramp. And people have done all those things."

Mother Kali's - named for a Hindu goddess - was founded in 1975, Luna says, "by three women with $500." It started out in an apartment, then moved to a house, then to its first retail space on Blair Boulevard and then to the site near campus.

Textbook sales have always been a staple of Mother Kali's business, with a full inventory of texts used in women's studies classes. But textbook sales have plummeted in recent years as students have turned to the Internet for used books, Luna says. There also were the issues of parking near campus, and of being off the beaten track.

It all led to some inward thinking by Mother Kali's board of directors, and the eventual decision to seek a new start at 18th and Willamette.

"It feels like we are going into a corridor there - sort of the corridor where our customers live and shop and do things, to a greater or lesser degree," Luna says. "Rather than it being once a month that you go to Mother Kali's, there you will drive by every day and hopefully stop in."
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Title Annotation:Business; Mother Kali's is shifting to a site near 18th Avenue and Willamette Street
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 24, 2005
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