A longtime Soldotna bookstore has joined forces with a revamped natural foods market to prove that businesses can be environmentally friendly and successful.
Soldotna’s River City Books and speciality store Lucy’s Market recently moved to a new spot — just down the road from Walgreens, alongside Kenai River Brewing — that houses a building designed for environmental sustainability.
River City has been around for decades — it will be celebrating its 20-year anniversary next month — as a favorite spot for local bibliophiles. When the store’s lease at its previous location on East Redoubt next door to the Fred Meyer went unrenewed, it was time to look for a new home, owner Peggy Mullen said.
She decided to relocate to land that was once a farm for the Mullen family, which then turned it into a laundromat business and then a horse pasture for her sister. The plot of land went unused for years and was overgrown with birch and willow trees.
Now, the once-empty plot features a storefront with a sleek look new. With large, white letters adorning its side, the building faces traffic at the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways — giving passersby an invitation to step in.
“Even though we’re not directly on the highway, we’re directly visible,” said Kelsey Shields, owner of Lucy’s Market. “It’s a lot safer getting in and out than the last place we were at.
“I actually expected the opposite, I expected Wednesdays to be slow … that hasn’t been the case, thankfully, for us.”
Although the spot is just a stone’s throw away from the store’s old location, the new store building has gotten some major upgrades.
Mullen said was tired of operating out of someone else’s building and “using imagination to fix it up,” and she wanted to build an environmentally responsible site. So she asked around for the best environmental architect.
“The name that kept floating to the top was a gal in Anchorage named Petra Sattler Smith,” Mullen said, referring to the owner of Lumen Design in Anchorage. “If I was going to build something new, I wanted to do it properly.”
The building features large windows that allow plenty of sunlight in, an indoor ventilation system that circulates air efficiently and LED lighting on the ceiling. There are 23 panels installed by Anchorage Solar on the southwest side of the building that soak up energy from the sun, with additional panels on the roof. In a spring report, Anchorage Solar reported that the panels could see a carbon offset of more than 200,000 pounds over 30 years.
Mullen said that carbon footprint of the business was something she wanted to limit as much as possible.
“If you’ve lived in Alaska for a while, and have paid attention, you’ve noticed the changes,” she said.
Mullen said the amount of energy harvested by the solar panels is enough to break even on the store energy bill. The long summer days supply enough solar energy to power the business for the winter season, she said.
Mullen said a “buyback” power meter attached to the back of the building has shown that River City Books is providing more power than it uses.
“Our last bill, we were not paying anything,” Mullen said. “In fact, we’re building to our January drop.”
Mullen was the first owner of Lucy’s Market, which was originally named Gourmet Garden. It was later retooled as Totally Radish by another local business owner, before Shields took over just over a year ago.
“Kelsey has just made it leaps and bounds better,” Mullen said. “She is really smart and capable of doing a good job.”
As majority owner of Lucy’s Market, Shields said her floor space has tripled in size with the move.
“I love it so far,” she said. “We’re in an incredible building. I have a great landlord (Mullens) and I’m very thankful for that. It seems really well received by the public.”
The market/bakery, whose title Shields said comes from a pet name her father gave her as a child, has emerged as a unique spot that caters to people looking for a natural foods selection. Shields said she got her start in the wholesale baking business at a younger age, creating muffins and cookies and selling them to various local coffee carts.
“It became more and more apparent that a lot of people have poor selection of options around here,” Shields said. “So we try to satisfy that market.”
Lucy’s also offers a good selection of gluten-free and vegan options, as well as artisanal cheeses. Even though she sells somewhat specialized products, Shields said she tries to cater to “hopefully everyone.”
“I’d say people who generally consider themselves foodies,” she said. “We have a strangely diverse customer base that we offer items to.”
Shields said her business focuses on artisanal and gourmet cheeses, which can only be sourced from Outside businesses that create handmade, small-batch cheese. Lucy’s also features a cured meat selection, hard-to-find grocery items, sandwiches, soups, salads and fresh baked bread loaves.