JoBa Cafe: A Humble Beginning

This post is written by Ede Reynolds and is the first post in a series of posts about the history and day-to-day affairs of the John Bale Book company.

When Dan begins digging in boxes he tucked away years before, you never know what he’ll unearth.  This time it was a bookshop log I started when, in 2003, we moved from our location in the basement of Howland Hughes to our present location on Grand St. Our present 158 Grand St. store is a far cry from where we stared–down the street in a 400 s/f space.

A wonderful photo Dan Gaeta and Edith Reynolds, the owners of the John Bale Book Company  in the prime of their life.
A wonderful photo Dan Gaeta and Edith Reynolds, the owners of the John Bale Book Company in the prime of their life.

I hope this blog will allow us to highlight some of the things we do in the café and some of our community activities, but for today, I’d like to lay down the foundation of how we began in 1992.  It may have been empty nest or a mid-life crisis but Dan and I wanted to have our own business.  But what?  Dan was certain it had to be downtown for sentimental reasons (he started working as a delivery boy at age 13 for Cappy’s Deli on South Main St. He went on to earn a business degree from NYU so felt confident the world would be his oyster).

Me?  I was on a sabbatical from my job at what was then called Mattatuck Community College and on the board of directors for Literacy Volunteers.  I knew there were too few opportunities for our students to buy inexpensive books.  Voila! A used bookshop would be our experiment.

The storefront was a “white box” thanks to the landlord Gary Bellard and he offered us an inexpensive rent in order to fill the space.  Remember, in 1992  the Great Downtown Business Exodus had begun.

The store held its own and quickly became too small to accommodate the multitude of books Dan was bringing in.  When Howland Hughes ceased to be a traditional department store and focused, instead, on Connecticut Made products, Hank Paine offered us space in the basement adjacent to the café run by Ellyn Scully and crew.  As the Internet became a steady venue for selling books online we expanded to the fourth floor and offered shipping services to other booksellers.

We soon outgrew that space as well.

One winter morning we noticed Daley’s Stationary was going out of business.  Over coffee we chatted about what that would mean for downtown and Dan suddenly said, “I wonder if the building is for sale.”  He darted off to find out and returned about an hour later to say, “I bought it.”

The possibilities seemed endless.  4 stories, an elevator, a full basement.  We began to plot out what we could do with such bounty.  The fourth floor could be transformed into a loft apartment, a space to serve coffee and cookies.   We pictured people browsing and book signings, parties, and all sorts of activities.

Owning a downtown building isn’t glamorous we quickly learned.   As new owners we had to bring the structure up to existing codes.  The estimate for that was over $100,000 (a figure we soon discovered was extremely conservative).  Where would the money come from?

Herein lies the beauty of Waterbury.  I know, many people would scoff at that description but it is the spirit that keeps us in town.  The WDC offered loan/grants for Internet business growth and for building renovations–something we qualified for.  The process wasn’t easy, especially since Dan and I never bothered to do an official business plan but it forced us to look at short and long term planning, find the best prices and reliable contractors.  The WDC walked us through the process and encouraged us.  And, because of their help, we were able to meet the expectations and had the opportunity to plan the kind of things we thought would be fun.

We’d come a long way from the idea that we’d fill a few shelves with books and see if people would buy them.

Future blog posts will include more of our history as well as our current endeavors.
I hope our readers will enjoy the tale as much as we enjoy living it.


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