Relocating a large theological bookstore from downtown Stillwater to a farm populated with free-range chickens might seem like an unusual business decision.
Loome Theological Booksellers co-owner and proprietor Christopher Hagen and his wife Christelle, however, moved the bookstore last year to a 14-acre hobby farm to give it space to grow. But, more than that, they envisioned that the new location offered a way for their family to live out and promote self-sufficiency as well as Catholic philosophies related to work, agriculture and scholarship.
During the April grand opening of the bookstore located seven miles southwest of Stillwater, the couple — parishioners at St. Michael in Stillwater — talked about the role of Divine Providence in the move and their hope of creating new synergy between books, crops and life with their five children.
“Bookstores do not have an easy go of keeping the doors open because of fewer people reading physical books,” Christopher said. “Tying the bookstore in with something else with its own vitality — a farm — we’re hoping will keep the bookstore’s legs going as well.”
Loome Theological Booksellers features nearly 100,000 hard-to-find scholarly and classic Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and related books purchased throughout North America and Europe. Hagen and business partner Andrew Poole purchased the bookstore in 2008.
It took more than 100 trips in a minivan and trailer to move the book collection last fall from its previous location in a 1904 former Swedish Covenant church to the farm in Lakeland Township.
Employees, volunteers and the Hagen family spent many hours setting up the new bookstore in a building on the farm site which has a climate controlled retail area, Christopher said. Since only 10 percent of the store’s business is from the retail store — the rest is from online sales — he said he doesn’t think the new rural location will greatly affect sales.
In addition to the bookstore, the couple and their children, ages 12 and under, are planting vegetables and herbs for which they’re offering community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares. They’re renting a portion of the property to other gardeners and a beekeeper, and they plan to acquire sheep and other animals, Christopher said.
Before they had a family, a farm or a bookstore, the Hagens began thinking about combining all three as a way to fulfill the call for the new evangelization. Influenced by the Stillwater Catholic Worker community, they studied the writings of French Catholic social activist Peter Maurin, who together with Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker Movement.
Maurin’s writing on living closer to the land and creating an “agronomic university” inspired them, along with Blessed Pope John Paul II’s teaching that work should conform to the family and not the other way around. They have been further inspired by 19th-century archbishop St. Anthony Marie Claret’s writing on sustainable family farm life.
Feeling pulled in different directions by the bookstore, homeschooling and Christelle’s doula and parenting business, the couple decided in 2012 to move to a farm to create a new focus for work and family life that would also directly involve their children.
It’s a new challenge to find a balance between family and work, Christopher said. “Most workplaces don’t let the work bend to the family needs,” he said. “We’re still learning how to do that. We don’t want to bend so much that the work falls over.”
Their new life is setting an example, Christelle said. “I realize in this world where people just seem to be more and more divided that seeing a family that is more and more working together gives people hope.”
‘A perilous adventure’
Leah and Derek Rieckens, also parishioners at St. Michael, both work full time at the bookstore and are pleased with the new location. “I think it’s beautiful,” Leah said. “A lot of customers have commented that it’s a peaceful location.”
The single-story showroom should be easier for older patrons, she added. “I’m really excited about having a space that’s all one level with good lighting and that’s climate controlled.”
Charles Puskas of Circle Pines, who works in publishing, said the bookstore is a nice destination with lots of products. “They have a good niche developed,” he said. “There’s always something here in different areas.”
Larry Myer, a Minneapolis Latin and Greek teacher, also commented on the new location. “It’s great,” he said. “Very peaceful. I will come back.”
The Hagens said they see God’s guidance in bringing them to the farm and fulfilling some of their long-held ideals.
“The way I see this farm has impacted my faith is making me realize my utter dependence on God more than ever before,” Christelle said.
Christopher agreed. “Doing this is a bit of a perilous adventure,” he said. “It’s uncharted territory. The farm and the family. It’s just relying more on Divine Providence.”
For more information about the bookstore and directions, visit https://www.loomebooks.com.
Category: Arts and Culture