Loome Theological Booksellers returns to Stillwater

| Susan Klemond | September 12, 2017 | 0 Comments

Loome Theological Booksellers’ owner Christopher Hagen stands in front of the bookstore’s new location,229 Main St. S., Stillwater. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Twenty years ago, Christopher Hagen read his way into the Catholic Church through good books. Now he lives and works among them. The owner of Loome Theological Booksellers returned the bookstore to Stillwater this summer and hopes the Main Street location will draw new customers and lead them to the faith.

“I love our Lord, I love the Church, and I love good books,” Hagen said. “I want to put things in here that the Holy Spirit can use to prick consciences and draw their hearts into the Church.”

Thomas Loome, theology professor at then-College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, founded the internationally known bookstore in Stillwater 34 years ago. Hagen, 41, took the helm in 2008. Four years ago, he moved the bookstore’s hard-to-find scholarly and classic theological works to a farm-based store southwest of Stillwater, where he and his family could engage in a Catholic-inspired vision of work, agriculture and scholarship.

A rent increase on the farm compelled the Hagens to move both the store and their family back to Stillwater. Hagen sold 80 percent of the bookstore’s inventory to a single buyer. He moved the remaining stock into the 4,000 square-foot Stillwater store — half the space it occupied on the farm. Hagen said the smaller size will increase efficiency.

“I feel much more part of the Stillwater community in this location,” said Hagen who, with his wife, Christelle, 44, and their seven children, belongs, to
St. Michael in Stillwater.

Unlike the last move — which involved 100 minivan trips — returning to the city required only 15 trips because of the sale and donation of books. But many hours of book sorting, combined with liquidating farm equipment, the family move and caring for a newborn, made the process exhausting, even with help, he said.

Grand openingLoome Theological Booksellers’ grand opening at 229 Main St. S., Stillwater, will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 30. For more information visit LoomeBooks.com or call 651-430-1092.

“Overall, my family looks back on the farm as satisfying and challenging in a good way,” Hagen said. “Now that we live back in a neighborhood, we’re trying to take what we can from the farm and plant it, literally in some ways and figuratively in others.”

Now living in a house on a large lot a mile from the bookstore, the family hopes to maintain a beehive, chickens and a vegetable garden, vestiges of their Claret Farm as well as a nod to the agrarian side of the Catholic Worker Movement, one of their inspirations. Founded in 1933 by activist Dorothy Day and others, the movement includes a focus on the works of mercy.

Hagen plans to weave that vision with the bookstore by providing customers opportunities to participate in works of mercy, such as donating to mission projects. He is also patterning the bookstore after a monastery, evident in the layout, signage and patio behind the store. The offerings, however, are not only Catholic; the store includes Orthodox and Protestant works as well.

Downsizing inventory and moving into a smaller space was intentional, Hagen said. While he once dubbed Loome “the largest theological bookstore in the world,” he realized that customers never saw 60 percent of the books. In trimming the collection to roughly 15,000 volumes, Hagen sold many duplicate copies.

Customers should find it easier to locate books in the smaller collection kept on two levels in the store. Smaller inventory and less space also will make it possible for Hagen to process more of the books he obtains from individuals, estates and institutions, he said. Books are also available online at LoomeBooks.com.

“One of the things I want to do — and will be forced to do much better in this space — is to have fresh books out more often,” he said.

Anticipating new customers, Hagen plans to expand the bookstore’s primarily secondhand offerings to include new materials. He also plans to add new and used children’s books, fiction and books on social issues and Minnesota history, as well as works by Stillwater authors.

Customer Heidi Giebel, 41, a parishioner of St. Patrick in Hudson, Wisconsin, said she is delighted to see the bookstore back in Stillwater.

“Especially right on Main Street, where it should get a lot of well-deserved foot traffic,” said Giebel, who’s been a Loome customer for five years. “The new store is very nicely laid out and organized; it has a really peaceful and welcoming atmosphere. And its smaller size is just right for browsing.”

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