Books, Community, And A Good Cup of Joe

Making An Impact On

Downtown Waterbury

Story By John Murray

Ede Reynolds and her husband, Dan Gaeta.

    Downtown Waterbury is filled with advocates helping to reignite the city's beleagured core. There are long-time merchants who have weathered the brutal collapse of downtown commerce to emerge stronger, more resilliant, and anxious to be part of a more vibrant economy.

    There is also a new breed of activist, fresh and strong, new to the battle, and ready to pull the downtown wagon into the future. The new breed wants to help quicken the transition toward prosperity and has invested money and passion into the cause.

    There are several individuals helping to lead the new breed of downtown activists, but one would have to think long and hard to find anyone who has done as much for downtown Waterbury these past few years as the owners of the John Bale Book Company, Ede Reynolds and her husband, Dan Gaeta.

    During the past five years the state of Connecticut has invested more than $200 million in downtown Waterbury with a restored Palace Theater, a new magnet arts school and a new swank UConn campus on East Main Street. But these are public dollars invested by former Governor John Rowland and the state legislature.

    Ede Reynolds and Dan Gaeta made a significant splash in downtown by using their own money - a private investment - and have backed up their move with plenty of action these past two years. In addition to opening the John Bale Book Company right across the street from the post office in downtown Waterbury, the couple, especially Ede, have been involved in many of the significant events to happen in downtown these past two years.

    Ede, along with Carol Gendron of Cafe Europa, and Mike Rinaldi of Arabesque, helped create a monsterously successful Halloween celebration in downtown Waterbury. The merchants created a haunted graveyard in Cobblestone Court and set up free candy stations around downtown that attracted an estimated 4000 city kids.

   Ede is also a volunteer and tireless cheerleader of Main Street Waterbury, an all volunteer organization making a methodical, long-term commitment to revitalizing the arts, culture and commerce in downtown Waterbury. Many of the Main Street Waterbury sub-committee meetings are held on the second floor of the John Bale Book Company, a comfy and inviting spot to help launch another wave of renaisance in Waterbury.

    A few months ago Ede and Dan realized a dream when they opened a small cafe inside their bookstore. With the help of a Naugatuck Valley Development Corporation (NVDC) grant, the couple rearranged a portion of their first floor display area to create the cafe.
'We always wanted to to do this," Ede Reynolds said. 'It just took a few years to get it off the ground."

    The cafe is serving sandwiches, soups, pastries, bagels, muffins, cookies, tea and coffee. The sandwiches are pre-made by Cafe Europa and the cookies are made by Sweet Maria's bakery. Maria Sanchez of Sweet Maria's invented a "Bale Bar" especially for the book store. The Bale Bar is a combination of graham crackers, marshmallow and two types of chocolate chips.

    Customers are encourgaed to drink a cup of coffee, nibble on some cookies and browse a book while sitting at a table inside the bookstore.

    "We encourage people to be comfortable," Reynolds said. "If people want to play the piano they are welcome to."

    And that's not an idle invitation.

    One afternoon a visitor from Russia wandered in and began playing the piano. He was very accomplished and filled the bookstore with the elegant sounds of classical music.

    Ede and Dan ended up befriending the musician and he stayed with them for two weeks.

    Carmello Cocchiola, who used to work at Coffee Works, is the cafe manager, and gets lots of help from Lisa Bessette, the book store manager, and Ede Reynolds.

    Reynolds said the response has been good and they are looking to extend the cafe hours into the evenings, and on weekends.

    The bookstore has 56,000 books on-line, with another 100,000 waiting to be listed. Most of the sales at the bookstore are via the internet, and private sales where collectors come to town to browe their rare book inventory.

    Reynolds and Gaeta could have bought a farm property in the country with a large barn and launched the John Bale Book Company. Instead they invested their money, and their hearts, into downtown Waterbury. Reynolds and Gaeta could operate their business with their front door closed, but instead they have opened the store to browsers, and now with the addition of the cafe, to anyone interested in a great cup of coffee, a fabulous cookie or a sumptuous sandwich.

    Reynolds and Gaeta have bucked the trend to open a retail store in downtown Waterbury and have created a place for people to congregate, a place for community to develop. For all that, Reynolds and Gaeta have been chosen "Entrepeneurs of the Year" in Waterbury and will be honored at a breakfast January 17th at the Harold Webster Smith Awards, sponsored by the Waterbury Regional Chamber of Commerce, at the Villa Rosa, 380 Farmwood Road in Waterbury.