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Claremont’s artistic side

You’d think Claremont, with its artsy crowd and all those PhDs competing with the trees, would have a store specializing in new books.

Instead, bibliophiles have long had to content themselves with the vibrant—but distinctly catch-as-catch-can—selection of used books at the Claremont Forum’s Prison Library Bookstore.

This changed two weeks ago when a new business called Mirrored Society opened its doors on the second floor of the historical Harvard Square Building, located on Bonita Avenue in the Claremont Village. Launched by longtime friends and business partners Kathleen Graulty and Julian Lucas, the bookshop is centered on the visual arts.

Mr. Lucas, who lives in Pomona, is a street photographer whose work has appeared in Vice magazine among other publications. A sample of his vision is currently on view at Mirrored Society, which doubles as a gallery.

Ms. Graulty, a Claremont resident, has a background in fashion and business management. Her endeavors include jewelry design, with her wares available on www.raawdesign.com, but she said setting up shop in the 600-square-foot Claremont space has been a new experience. 

“It’s always a scary thing to start a brick-and-mortar business, but it was time to take a chance instead of talking about it,” she said.

Mr. Lucas and Ms. Graulty met more than two decades ago while studying at Citrus College. Thus far, their business partnership has gone smoothly.

“We complement each other really well,” Ms. Graulty said. “He has ideas I don’t have, and I might have business experiences he hasn’t had.”

They’ve turned the shop, formerly a cozy nook where antiques were sold, into a simple but sophisticated affair.

“We felt good coming in. We saw beyond what was in front of us,” Ms. Graulty said. “I love the history of the building. It’s really nice.”

The small, airy space has exposed brick contrasting with walls that have been painted eggshell white to showcase artwork. Wooden chairs can be pulled up to wooden tables housing a selection of titles, both new and rare, on photography, architecture, fine art, fashion and design.

There are Taschen releases of every ilk and photographic musings on topics like the pulchritude of model Kate Moss and the grace of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. 

The Bollocks: A Photo Essay of the Sex Pistols documents the legendary punk band as its members clown, perform, drink and generally upend the music industry and society. The photographer, Dennis Morris, also known for his iconic photographs of Bob Marley, appeared at Mirrored Society for a book signing and lecture in late January.

The event, which coincided with the store’s grand opening, drew a sizeable crowd. Ms. Graulty and Mr. Lucas hope to have a similarly accomplished guest visit the shop each month. Next up will be an exhibit, booksigning and lecture by Los Angeles-based photographer and director Estevan Oriol on Saturday, February 27 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Mr. Oriol, noted for his work reflecting LA’s urban and gang culture as well as his celebrity portraits, has a compelling story. He started as a club bouncer and soon was serving as tour manager for hip-hop acts Cyprus Hill and House of Pain. His photographs have been featured in Rolling Stone, GQ and Vibe.

You can take any of the shop’s goods home except one. Ms. Graulty ordered the oversized, Taschen-published The Rise of David Bowie, showcasing photos by Mick Rock, before the recent death of the Thin White Duke. Now, it serves as a shrine to the rockstar. “It’s not for sale,” she said.

Ms. Graulty feels Mirrored Society is a perfect fit for the city.

“We like the Prison Library bookstore—we’ve purchased a lot of books there,” she said. “But we wanted to bring something specialized to the community.”

Everyone in Ms. Graulty’s family is an artist of some sort. Thus, opening a shop catering to artists and art-lovers alike is an undertaking that’s close to her heart.

“For me, it’s a dream to have something to own like this shop,” Mr. Lucas agreed. For the photographer, who divides his time between camera slinging on the streets of Los Angeles and minding the shop, his current life is equivalent to a jailbreak.

He spent 10 years as a prison guard in the state of Oregon, often watching inmates as they spent time in “the hole” or underwent various behavior modification measures. “The inmates run the show. You’re just there to serve them,” he said.

It was a pressure-cooker environment where, to do his job, he had to maintain a “rigid and strict” attitude. When he wanted to pursue his photography, another stance was required. “To be an artist, you have to be open to the realities of life,” he explained. “It’s hard to do both.”

After experiencing major burnout, Mr. Lucas left the job in November 2012 and hasn’t looked back. He is relishing his latest enterprise.

Because of the nature of the books on offer, you could spend hours browsing in Mirrored Society. Mr. Graulty and Mr. Lucas plan to grow their selection, following their own aesthetic intuition as well as suggestions by customers. However, considering white space is a virtue in design, the business model does not include acquiring every title that’s out there.

“We don’t have a typical bookstore feeling,” Ms. Graulty said. “We want people come in and flip through books.

Mirrored Society is located at 206 W. Bonita Ave. in Claremont, on the second floor of Harvard Square. It’s open Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4:30 to 8 p.m; Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For information, visit mirroredsociety.com

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com