River City Books opens new location with eye toward greener future

May 30, 2019

 

The new location of River City Books on Homestead Lane is also where owner Peggy Mullen's family homesteaded more than 70 years ago.
Credit River City Books

A mainstay Soldotna business, River City Books, has officially moved into its new location on Homestead Lane behind Walgreens.

 


KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran spoke with owner Peggy Mullen, who was still busy unpacking books Wednesday morning.

The new store hadn’t even been open for an hour and was already bristling with book browsers.

With help from family and a small army of volunteers, a whole bookstore and adjoining deli was moved a couple hundred yards to a new building that’s kind of a showcase in its own regard. Peggy Mullen learned that the lease on the old location wouldn’t be renewed a few years ago and from the beginning, she knew she wanted the new building to be as sustainable as possible. One of the first things you notice is all the natural light.

“The most recommended environmental architect turned out to be a woman in Anchorage whose company is called Lumen and that’s why this room is filled with light. She is fantastic. She calls this style Nordic Modern and you do pay attention to things like light in the north.”

And the sun plays a role in providing power, too. Not just light. Mullen says after a United Nations report was released last year that essentially gives the world a little more than a decade to reduce carbon emissions and potentially stave off the most dramatic effects of a warming climate, she wanted to expand her use of renewable energy in the new building.

“My banker was nice enough to loan me more money and we put solar on the roof, too. It’s important, I think anybody who builds anything now and anybody who has the opportunity to retrofit should be doing what we can. We all have grandkids.”

A federal grant helped with some of the upfront costs of installing the solar system and Mullen says it will basically take care of their electric needs throughout the year. They’re also planning to add a couple charging stations for electric vehicles in the parking lot.

 

And while the building itself is all brand new and high tech, its location has been in the family for decades. It’s where the family homestead was carved out more than 70 years ago. And there are still some surprises to be found here.

“This was our first field when we were farmers trying to make a living in the early 50’s and we were saved by Wildwood air force base, which came in and actually gave us a market. We spent a lot of time leaning on our hoes as kids. It was interesting when they started digging around in here. We found an unsual amount of topsoil. Dick Reger (retired geologist, Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys) came by and I asked him why he thought that would be and he said 1,000 years ago, when the Kenai river was a braided stream, that Soldotna creek still ran out of the lakes and it had to move as the stream did. So he said this was probably once a streambed here that collected all of that organic matter. So it’s kind of exciting. It’s good to be here.”

That fertile topsoil will be used to plant edibles outside, which may come in handy for one of the other ventures sharing the building, Lucy’s Market. Owner Kelsey Shields was busy behind the counter when I stopped by. She says they’re already talking about how to put all the extra space to use that they didn’t have before.

“I’m incredibly excited and thankful that we’re here and our doors are open. We’ve been brainstorming all morning about how we can fit more prep tables into our kitchen already.”

The new location will also be home to a massage therapist. Fine Thyme Cafe, which had called the old building home, will open again in a new location. Mullen says she’s grateful for local shoppers who have kept her busy the past 20 years. And with so much sustainable technology in the new building, another 20 shouldn’t be a problem.

“I didn’t want to move somewhere else and try to fix something up again. I was tired of that. So we figured (after) 20 years, maybe we can make it a few years longer to pay off the loan," she says with the laugh of someone who is happy to have a new place to call home.