Sean Christopher: “I was looking for the smalltime vibe I knew growing up in Carlsbad.”
In September Lhooq Books was told it had two months to pack up and get out of of Carlsbad’s downtown Village area.
The Lhooq Books story does have a happy ending. But it’s not due to the help founder Sean Christopher says he was promised from the city of Carlsbad following the outpouring of support from longtime locals who praised the funky outpost .
“This is just another small, funky shop that is being priced out of Carlsbad."
Billed as Oregon's oldest city, Astoria is 1,000 miles away in northwest Oregon. A non-profit there has welcomed Lhooq Books with an expansive venue and a promise of support. Christopher was born and raised in Carlsbad. He says his hometown city government never came through with the love he says he was led to believe he would receive that would help keep his book store in Carlsbad.
“They would have events for everything from the League of Women Voters to punk shows,” says Lhooq supporter Mike Maras about Lhooq’s outdoor patio that has been used for book signings, public meetings and live music. “This is just another small, funky shop that is being priced out of Carlsbad and is being forced to pull up stakes and move out of town. It seems like everything in Carlsbad is now being tailored to the tourists.”
Carlsbad’s population is 115,000. That makes it eleven times larger than Astoria. Yet through a random meeting, Christopher says he was able to make a connection with the Oregon city of less than 10,000 population.
395 Carlsbad Village Drive
Christopher challenged his two-month eviction and then was given until the end of May. This week he flew up to Astoria for the second time to go over the next chapter for Lhooq Books.
“I was looking for a town that had the same smalltime vibe I knew growing up in Carlsbad,” says Christopher. “Astoria is a town known for being a historical town with an open mind about promoting culture. There are just some towns like Austin, Athens [Georgia], and Lawrence [Kansas] that have a reputation for proudly mixing the cultural with the mainstream.”
He says the city of Astoria bought an abandoned 44,000-square foot armory built in the 1940s. It was in turn purchased by a non-profit called Friends of Astoria Armory for $250,000.
“For being such a big space, it was not run-down. It’s right in the center of town so the city was able to protect it when it was closed. The wiring was still intact and there wasn’t a lot of graffiti. There is one large room, offices, a kitchen, and a separate basement space that would be a good performance space. There is the space that used to be an old propeller museum that was used the film The Goonies.”
Christopher says he is in ongoing talks with the Astoria non-profit about which space will be used for what purpose. He says the new Lhooq Books will now be allowed to thrive alongside a “higher-end gallery,” a video studio and a mixed-use performance area which will help cover expenses. “It’s not a co-op. That triggers the image of old school hippie stuff. It will be a forward-thinking operation where arts and culture will be in the forefront while still helping young artists or any artists get a start.”
Christopher says that when Lhooq Books was told its days were over at Carlsbad Village Drive, the public reaction and words of positive support from local officials gave him hope that Lhooq Books could stay in Carlsbad. Christopher points out that a public/private incentive is what drove the city of Oceanside and local arts supporters to launch the Oceanside Museum of Arts. And that's what he thought could happen in Carlsbad.
“Councilmember Cori Schumacher told me she would do everything in her power to try and help us,” is how Christopher describes his meetings last year with the first-term councilmember. “She set up meetings with the economic development department.” Christopher says his discussion that department’s management analyst Christie Marcella was promising. Christopher says she told him the city would help him keep Lhooq alive.
But Christopher says things changed, when Marcella left the city and was replaced by a new management analyst, Joe Stewart, who oversaw a city hall meeting on February 4.
Christopher explained how he had been in communication with the owners of 395 Carlsbad Village Drive, Bernard and Marina Goldstein, about a house that has been vacant for 10 years. “Every time I brought up what we could do to the building, even if it was cosmetic, they said it would take a year or two to get permits approved. They said all the permits would cost in the high six-figures…The whole meeting seemed antagonistic."
That house and its adjacent property (immediately east of Senor Grubby’s restaurant) is listed for sale at $4.7 million. Christopher says it was recently listed.
“Cory was disheartened when she found out there was no real help in the pipeline for me,” says Christopher. "I think she has always been about breaking up the good old boys network in Carlsbad. But in this case, the machine prevailed, and we didn’t fit into their agenda.”
Economic development analyst Lewis responds: “Staff listened to Mr. Christopher’s business plans and ideas ands provided him with as much information as possible regarding the properties in question. Staff was cordial, polite, and respectful of Mr. Christopher and his concerns…The city staff provided as much information as we could, given the facts that was provided.”
Garrison Zoutendyk says he will miss Lhooq Books. “They have been an amazing platform for all kinds of artists to do anything they want in any medium.” Zoutendyk and his local record label BoneJaw Records has used Lhooq Books to put on live rock. “My experience growing up was that Oceanside was always more supportive of the arts than Carlsbad and that’s why I gravitated to Oceanside. It seemed like Carlsbad was just headed for gentrification. But Lhooq Books is why I was starting to have hope in Carlsbad.”
He says the the local live music scene won’t die. “We can always scrounge up places to have house shows. But having a spot like Lhooq Books pop up again will determine whether the music scene can take off.”