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Bookseller’s light touch still lifts Los Osos

What’s to be made of a guy who owns a bookstore that has a sign inside the door that reads: “Don’t tell my mother I own a bookstore; she thinks I’m in prison”?

Or, in whose bookstore, the Los Osos Book Exchange, while casually perusing the stacks, you run into other 3x5 cards that say things like: “We feature courteous and efficient self-service,” “We sit behind everything we sell,” or “Employees must wash hands before reading”?

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to meet George Kastner, you’d know what to make of him: fun.

I’ve been meaning to write about Kastner since January, when he was named the 2009 Los Osos Citizen of the Year. Which is kind of a hoot because Kastner’s not a citizen of Los Osos, at least not anymore. He moved to Fresno last year to help take care of his above-mentioned 90-plus-year-old mother (who must be happy with his metaphorical parole), take care of some family commercial real estate and hang with his partner, Lucinda, while she finishes her master’s in speech therapy at Fresno State.

Although Kastner may no longer have a physical address in his preferred La Cañada de Los Osos (the historically accurate name of the community given by Gaspar de Portola when he led his 1769 Sacred Expedition north to Monterey and had a close encounter with a grizzly near today’s Los Osos Middle School), he remains as a regular volunteer at the Los Osos Library and as a weekly trail maintenance gopher at Montaña de Oro.

I first met Kastner almost 25 years ago and was impressed with his ursine nature. With a solid build, longish graying hair, bushy brows and beard, his image as a grizzly-man (or mountain man for that matter) was complete with the bear-foot slippers he wore.

From the Book Exchange, Kastner and his merry band of pranksters — called the Los Osos Community Organization (slogan: “We’re LOCO!”) — were behind much of the community’s bearable lightness: historical murals, bridge bears and bear benches come to mind.

With self-effacing good humor that he shared through Rudy Raidl-crafted monthly banners (because the Book Exchange is located around the corner from a laundromat, one of the banners said: “Drop your clothes around the corner and come on in”), he was a man with a mission when it came to putting unity in community.

But times change. LOCO members (disclosure: I was one) have come and gone. The community’s bickering-by-the-bay has led countywide residents to unfortunately rebrand the town as “Sewerville.”

Yet, a couple of sense-of-community seeds continue to bear fruit.

First, a group of residents calling themselves “Celebrate Los Osos” has been busy building, enhancing and beautifying various areas around town. Bravo!

Second, the Los Osos Book Exchange, now under the splendid ownership of Joan Campbell and Pody Anderson, is celebrating its 25th anniversary next month. As their Kastneresque slogan says of the store: “Established in 1985, competent by 1997 and trusted since April.” Sweeeet.

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or 781-7852.

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