Their career was selling books, but it’s the people — their loyal customers — who Carolyn and Tom Kulog mention most.
“Meeting and serving our customers has been the biggest reward of bookselling for us,” they said.
After 32 years at Betty’s Books, the Kulogs sold the business in July to Jeana Phillips.
“We’re very happy that Jeana was ready to step up to pursue a longtime dream of hers to own the bookstore just at the time we were ready to step down,” Carolyn said. “It was truly time for us to see what the next chapter might hold for us.”
Phillips is a Baker City native. She graduated from Baker High School in 1997, earned a degree at Oregon State University, and returned to Eastern Oregon to “work in the helping professions providing casework, counseling and advocacy.”
She said owning Betty’s Books combines her two favorite things: people and books.
“I love connecting with people, making recommendations as to what they may or may not like, what will challenge them a bit and having that in return,” she said. “It is a gift that I hope to never take for granted.”
Phillips, an avid reader, is just 9 months younger than the bookstore. Growing up she browsed the library’s collection, and “on incredibly special occasions” bought her own books.
“Some of my fondest memories are of my uncle taking me to town for lunch and then us going to the bookstore,” she said.
Betty started it all
It was Carolyn’s mother, Betty Kuhl, who brought books to downtown Baker City. Kuhl died in 2018 at the age of 94.
Her inspiration to open the store came from years of helping organize an annual book sale for the American Association of University Women (AAUW), as well as her book club, the Literary Lunch Bunch, that formed in 1975.
Books were always part of Kuhl’s life.
“I remember that whenever she came back from a trip out of town to vet meetings with Dad, she would bring a book or two home,” Carolyn said.
Kuhl opened Betty’s Books in 1979. She moved to its current location, 1813 Main St., two years later.
“From the time the store opened in 1979, it was always a favorite spot for us to visit when we came home with our kids,” Carolyn said of herself, and the families of her three sisters. “I remember sitting in the children’s section once and thinking how nice it would be to visit without young kids sometime. Well, I got my chance!”
Carolyn and Tom lived in Dayton, Ohio, for six years before returning to Oregon.
“As hard as it may be for diehard Western folks to believe, we loved our life and friends in Dayton,” Carolyn said. “We will never regret the time we spent there and have lifelong friends from the period.”
But all their family lived in Oregon. They returned to Baker City in 1988 and began their lives at Betty’s Books.
“Mother was happy to take us on as apprentices/employees,” Carolyn said. “After 9 years of running the store, she was looking ahead to retirement for both her and my dad.”
The Kulogs bought the store in 1994. Their daughters, Claire and Naomi, worked at the shop when needed — making it a three-generation business.
A love of books, the Kulogs have noticed, tends to span generations.
“In our 32 years in the store, we’ve seen generations of other families as well,” Carolyn said. “It was always a joy to see people we knew as children bring in their own kids, sharing their love of books and reading with them.”
The bookstore reached beyond Baker City with visitors from other places, and many would stop whenever they came through town.
Books wouldn’t exist without the people who write them, and the Kulogs met many authors at trade shows for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association.
“The exposure to some of these authors expanded our worlds in various and wonderful ways,” Carolyn said.
And they wanted to share that with the local community.
Over the years they organized book signings, and worked with the Baker County Library and Eastern Oregon Writers Guild to hold a Literary Night on the second Friday of each month.
As they close this chapter of their lives, the Kulogs reflected on others who helped keep the bookstore running.
“We were fortunate to have many good employees over the years,” Carolyn said. “The two longest standing were Lynne Zwanziger and Kevin McNamara. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Betty’s Books continues to bring in new books and old favorites even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.
“Jeana is taking the reins during a very challenging time and we hope that the reading community recognizes that and continues to support Betty’s Books,” Carolyn said.
The store now has a website, bettysbooks.indielite.org, where people can order books and browse the inventory.
Hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. It will be closed Sundays and Mondays.
“I am so honored beyond words at the opportunity to continue such an incredible legacy for our community, and I won’t be doing this alone,” Phillips said. “The community support has already been incredible, and I will have some amazing employees helping me navigate some changes and day-to-day operations as things unfold for all of us.”
Updates about books and literary news are posted on the shop’s Facebook and Instagram pages.