Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


Molly Ragsdale, owner of the Chamealeon Cafandeacute;, recently completed work on her downtown building that makes it a safer place to live for her and her teenage children.

The building, at 1825 Main St., is part of the Historic District. That means the work needed to be modified because of the age and complexities of the old structure. Some solutions were too expensive but there were other ways to accomplish many of the same goals for less money.

"The whole purpose was to make it a legal residence," she said. "And it wasn't very difficult. Or expensive."

The project didn't change the cozy atmosphere of the business. It's a little different than before but it takes time to figure out why. There aren't as many tables running down one side. You can see more of the kitchen from the seating area. The cashier's area just looks, well, a little different.

Ragsdale closed the Chamealeon at Christmas time last year and reopened in March. The original schedule called for the business to be closed only six weeks. She said she was grateful that her employees showed enough patience to return after running a few weeks behind schedule.

The structural work made the upper floor - the Ragsdales' living area - safer from fire primarily by creating a heavy barrier and firewall between the residence and the restaurant below.

Restaurants require special design and equipment to remain functional while physically lessening risks from a dangerous event. That would be the case even for a restaurant inside a new building.

But in the historic district there can be unique circumstances that require some flexibility.

"It's a matter of trying to make the city fire code fit their situation," said Baker City Fire Chief Jim Price. "We want to ensure it's as safe as possible for the people living there."

Ragsdale also upgraded the public restrooms. Both the men's and women's bathrooms now comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. She could have redone only one restroom and made the other one unisex without rails and other amenities for disabled customers. But she has observed that many people prefer single-gender restrooms.

"Some women won't even go into a restroom if it is used by men too," she said.

Businesses that aren't ADA-compliant are required to add access for these customers if the building is otherwise improved.

Ragsdale anticipated the work would cost $20,000, but she ended up spending $35,000 - not an exorbitant amount of money to make her business a safe place to call home as well, she said.

Ragsdale kept costs down by doing as much work as possible herself. Contractors still were needed to handle the most complicated matters, such as heating, electricity and major structural support, she said.

She emphasized that the Baker City Building Department was "very helpful."

"And Gary Bood (the city's building official) was very easy to work with," she said. "He explained why he couldn't allow me to do certain things. I needed to know why."

He also helped Ragsdale solve problems along the way. She said the same about the city inspectors because they would ask such questions as "have you heard of that?" she said.

More help came from employees at Do-It-Yourself stores in the area, such as Ace and Cashway.

"They know the city codes and can show you what sizes are needed of this and that," she said.

Ragsdale lost some tables in the restaurant. Reconfiguring the layout resulted in not losing all that many seats, however. And it became easier to move around the room.

When she has enough money again, the next building project would be to create a garage using the empty back end behind the restaurant work area so she could park her auto inside.

"More people should live downtown," Ragsdale said. "It could be very easily done."

She also believes that more business people living downtown above their businesses and creating garages in part of the space could significantly ease the parking crunch in the historic district.

Ragsdale will continue renting a parking space from another downtown property owner until she can afford to build her own garage. She has her employees park a few blocks away so customers can be more easily lured in by ample parking space along Main Street.

The city has information about how business people who own their buildings in the historic district could make the often-unused second stories into residential spaces. Call 541-524-2052 for details.

The Chameleon will be among other Main Street restaurants where patrons can sit outside and enjoy alcoholic beverages with their meals during the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally.

Drinking in these outdoor eating areas stops once the rally is over.

Lunch at The Chamealeon begins at 11 a.m. Dinner starts at 4 p.m. Coffee costs just 10 cents a cup. Evening hours can vary so she asks that people call 541-523-7977 to confirm whether she'll be open when they want to eat.