One of downtown's longest running businesses has closed its doors.

Bob Peterson, 68, and his wife Kate Nehrbass, owners of Blue Dragon Bookshop, decided after 24 years it was time to call it quits. The store closed Dec. 31.

"My wife wants me to retire and it'll be nice being able to just go and have a cup of coffee with people," Peterson said.

Nehrbass said her husband is acting cavalier about retiring, but it was an emotionally difficult decision for him.

"That bookstore was his passion," she said. "He started with nothing and built it up."

She said he was very particular about the quality of books he carried in his store and tourists and locals alike appreciated his standards.

"I'm notoriously hard on books. So when I finished them and told Bob he could take them to his store, he'd just look at them and shake his head," said Nehrbass.

When the couple put the business, located at 297 E. Main St., up for sale three years ago, the shelves held 40,000 books. They sold the remaining 25,000 to a Salem man who plans to open his own used bookshop.

Several potential buyers looked into purchasing Blue Dragon, but Peterson said they either didn't have enough money or the high rent scared them away.

The lease, which ends Jan. 31, was increasing $1,000 &

from $2,500 a month to $3,500.

"I appreciated my customers and tried very hard to find a buyer. But people really got sticker shock when they saw how expensive the rent was," said Peterson.

Diane Taudvin of Ashland has been a regular customer of Blue Dragon since it opened in 1983.

"Bob's place was so unique and just crammed with interesting books," she said. "It was always an adventure going in there and you'd never leave without finding a treasure."

Taudvin said it's hard to believe the couple really closed the bookstore.

"The Blue Dragon was an Ashland tradition but I'm impressed it was on Main Street that long. Especially with the rents as high as they are," she said. "Ashland is a tourist town with a very short retail season. And a lot of the little, unique shop's like Bob's can't afford the rents. All the stores downtown have gone upscale, just like the rents," she said.

The bookstore window now includes a liquor permit notice.

"That showed up a couple weeks ago," said Bob. "I don't know what the building owner has in mind for our space."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x226 or .