Stillwater bookstore fights to keep doors open

| July 6, 2018 | 0 Comments

Chris Hagen stands at the entrance of Loome Theological Booksellers in downtown Stillwater. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

An ancient book on a wooden pedestal in a downtown Stillwater shop stands as a testament to the value of a “brick and mortar” bookselling business.

Tourists who visit Loome Theological Booksellers on Main Street — about 1,000 per month —  are drawn to an Italian volume published several hundred years ago. Above the book is a small placard enticing visitors to guess its publication date. A 5 percent discount on all books purchased awaits those providing the correct answer. The placard notes that this is the oldest book in the store.

Owner Chris Hagen of St. Michael in Stillwater marvels at how popular the pedestal has been to book browsers.

“Almost everybody who walks into the bookstore comes up to that and just starts mulling over it,” he said. “Some people figure out that it’s a book from the 1500s. And, they’re just absorbed — ‘Wow, there’s something that old here.’”

This simple realization has tremendous meaning, and is why Hagen is fighting hard to keep the bookstore open. After moving it in fall 2017 to its current location from a farm where he and his family had lived, heavy debt prompted him to launch a GoFundMe campaign June 11 to raise $120,000. As of July 6, the amount raised is nearly $19,000.

He could sell the store and operate as an online only book dealer, which likely would satisfy the scholars, priests and pastors who have regularly made purchases since the store opened more than 30 years ago. But, that would eliminate all of the drop-ins who smile with delight as they discover books they never knew existed, like the woman struggling with addiction who walked in looking for something to help, and left the store with an armful of books and a renewed hope.

“I really have been struck the past few months or so just how important our faces are to each other,” he said. “The brick and mortar means I can see your face, you can see each other’s faces. Books and faces, that’s what a brick and mortar [store] can bring together.”

Hagen, 42, bought the bookstore in 2008 from its founder, Thomas Loome, who died March 31. After several years, Hagen moved the bookstore and its collection of hard-to-find scholarly and classic theological works from a former church building to a nearby farm where he lived with his wife, Christelle, and their six children. A rent increase on the farm prompted the Hagens to move the bookstore back to downtown Stillwater, and move their family to a home in Oak Park Heights that they had owned and had been renting to other tenants.

Hagen sold 80 percent of the store’s inventory, then moved the rest to the 4,000-square-foot store in downtown Stillwater. During that process, the family was also dealing with medical complications experienced by their seventh child, a daughter born two months prematurely in February 2017. All of that led to a debt they must pay off to keep the store running.

Though Hagen now is concerned mostly with the short-term survival of the store, which he also noted regularly hosts book clubs, he has an eye on the long-term future of a store he hopes will carry on long after the debt is repaid.

“I see the bookstore as an apostolate and I want to keep it going,” he said. “Long-term means as long as it’s possible for it to keep it going — it’s definitely my life — and then pass it on to someone else like Tom Loome did, if possible.”

As the campaign continues, Hagen’s optimism is growing along with the funds raised.

“I’m stunned and humbled that people are trying to help us out,” he said. “Seeing the response so far, it’s better than I expected — surprising. And, I’m grateful.”

 

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