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Bookstore halted by Gainesville's sewer needs
Business plans to hire disabled employees
Marty Owens had begun renovations on a 1930s bungalow-style house on Spring Street where she planned a bookstore when Gainesvillle instead purchased the house to install sewer lines. - photo by SCOTT ROGERS The Times

In December, it seemed like Our Neighbor Inc. was close to fulfilling a goal of providing employment to its physically challenged residents.

After a year of hunting, the organization purchased a building it called Our Neighbor's Porch. The building was to become Books & Beans, a Latte Library, making employment a reality for the three wheelchair-bound men living in Our Neighbor's "Randy's House."

But a few weeks later, the city of Gainesville decided it needed to purchase the property to maintain the city's sewer system.

To the founders of Our Neighbor Inc., employing the residents of "Randy's House" was a major step towards the residents' independence.

"We understood what a problem it was for them to find employment," said Marty Owens, co-founder of Our Neighbor Inc. "It seems like people that employ ... have a hard time looking past a person's disability to see what their abilities are and how they could be of benefit to their business."

But the business would also break barriers between the able-bodied and the disabled.

It would be a situation where "other people would get to know them, understand them, see what their abilities are and hopefully employ them also," Owens said.

Once they acquired the brick house across from 2Dog Cafe, members of the organization got busy with plans for a coffee shop, an art room and the bookstore.

Two occupational therapy students from Brenau started helping the residents of Randy's House - the future bookstore employees- prepare nearly 5,000 donated books for sale.

And everything was in order for the store to open by April.

But three weeks ago, after the building's roof had been restored, the floors had been sanded and the walls had been removed to open up the building, Gainesville's Public Utilities Department told Owens that the city needed the property to replace the storm drain and sanitary sewer line that runs below it.

The line serves the area from the post office on Green Street to Regions Bank on E.E. Butler Parkway. Only weeks after Our Neighbor Inc. purchased the property, department officials realized that there was no way to replace the utilities without removing the house, said Kelly Randall, director of Gainesville's Public Utilities Department.

"We've been looking at how to replace the sewer for some time ... and every time we try to figure out how to do it we just can't really do it and keep that building in place," Randall said.

Randall said it was unfortunate timing that Our Neighbor had already started renovating the property, but he said he believes the city will work with the organization in the property negotiations.

"It's a really admirable program that (Owens is) working with," said Randall. "I think it's good for the city, I think it's good for the citizens. Unfortunately, the two operations just couldn't exist on the same piece of property."

Owens says she believes the city will be fair in negotiating a proper price for the land, but the sewer construction has undoubtedly thrown a wrench in Our Neighbor's plans to provide its residents with employment.

"It is very disappointing to know that it has to be torn down," Owens said of the 1930s house that was to be turned into a bookstore. "We were excited to be able to restore it."

And the organization has not been able to find another location quite like the one it had, Owens said. "Our vision was to be near Brenau, to be near the business area, and to just be a gathering place," Owens said.

"We haven't even seen any for sale that would just suit our needs, but we'll continue looking and it may need to be in another area, because we're anxious to get a business open as soon as possible."

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