CENTRALIA, Wash. — Through what they say is a series of God-ordained events, the owners of a Christian bookstore 173 miles south of here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley have reopened a popular additional store in an outlet mall here.
As reported by The Daily Chronicle of Centralia, after a three-year hiatus, Christian Outlet is back at 1328 Lum Road, between Volcom and Kitchen Collection on the west side of Interstate 5. Owners Kevin and Krista Ferguson held the re-opening event earlier this fall. Debbie Verley was the manager before the store closed, and is back again as store manager.
The Fergusons also own Willamette Valley Christian Supply in Corvallis. Both that store and the Centralia store were formerly part of the 11-store Tree of Life Christian bookstore chain, which went out of business in 2015.
Regarding the store’s return, Verley told the Centralia newspaper that “everything just fell together. The community response has been overwhelming — absolutely overwhelming. In fact, mall management told us that in all the years they have done this, they have never had as many people at a grand opening as we had.”
Kevin Ferguson said the store was completely full at the grand re-opening. “It was a day I will never forget,” he told the Chronicle. “To me, it was confirmation that this was not our idea, but God’s.”
Ferguson said he operates his business based on three values — people over product, mission over money and neighbors over numbers.
“I think that in our current culture, there is a desire for wanting to know a personal God,” Ferguson said. “I believe it has a lot to do with people wanting to connect with Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I think that’s the reason why people are so excited about this store. … I think our culture is hungry for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The Tree of Life stores closed after owner Mark Schoepke’s battle against Parkinson’s Disease intensified. Schoepke liquidated the stores, warehouse and offices.
Verley managed Tree of Life Christian Outlet in Centralia at the time.
“It had nothing to do with lack of business,” Verley said. “Centralia was actually one of our highest volume stores … He didn’t want to quit, it’s just his health wouldn’t let him (continue). He liquidated all of the stores, the warehouse, the offices, all of it.”
Verley said after the store closed, and the employees lost their jobs, everyone stayed in contact.
“We had dinners once or twice, we have a barbecue every summer and every Christmas we got together,” Verley said. “We’re all good friends.”
When the Fergusons started making moves to open a Christian bookstore in Centralia, Schoepke helped orchestrate conversations to bring Christian Outlet back. “He has been instrumental, supported us, given us product,” Ferguson told the Chronicle. “He has been an incredible asset to our success.”
Ferguson asked Verley what she thought of putting the store back in the same location.
“As we talked, she said ‘give me a moment,’ ” he remembered.
Within a couple days, Verley had hired back the entire staff.
“God supplied every detail — with Debbie having years and years of experience in management, and her team understanding how to operate the point of sale, the fact that they didn’t need any training, the fact that they were able to set up the store,” said Ferguson. “and have product out of my store that we could at least get into here that gave it a foundation.”
The newly revived store not only has the same staff, location and name, it also has the same phone number.
“All these things were things that we can’t do or manufacture,” Ferguson said. “We believe God provided it so that we can have an impact in the community.”