Bookstore with mission keeps growing

May 21, 2004|ANN R. HARNEY

Words of Life Christian Bookstore has had three homes as it continued to grow over the past 25 years.

"I think this will be it," said Maryann Strickland, who has owned the store for the store's lifetime and is now celebrating those 25 years in business.

The first home was a 1,000 square-foot section in the Corral Business Center on the north end of Harrodsburg. It stayed there from 1979 until 1982. The store's second home, between 1982-1997, was what is now the Medicine Shoppe pharmacy on the south side of the city. That building is 2,400 square feet in size.

The latest, built in 1997 by the Stricklands, is more than double the size of the last store. Maryann Strickland started the store three or four years after she and her family moved here from New Jersey.


Their farm community of Freehold was becoming a bedroom community for New York City, and land prices began to soar. While on vacations, the family looked at farms throughout the country. In the mid-'70s, "The lord brought us up through Kentucky," she said, explaining they had started in the western side of the state and ended up in Mercer County.

They contacted a real estate agent who showed them a farm in McAfee, and they moved here. Harry Strickland ran a dairy farm, and their three children grew to adulthood. They now lease the farm.

Why a bookstore?

Why a bookstore?

"The Lord laid it on my heart," Maryann Strickland says. It was not an epiphany, she says, but more a steady thought in her heart and on her mind, and the third or fourth year she was here, the thought became a reality.

Active in Christian Booksellers Association, Strickland said the current Words of Life store is "very representative of a CBA model store." Strickland sees the store as a ministry, in which she and her staff stay current about new books and music releases. She saw the Mel Gibson movie, "The Passion of the Christ," at a CBA meeting in January.

"The bookstore needed to be ready to receive and display new products," she said. "Part of my business is keeping up with new products and being knowledgeable about it and where to get it."

"The Passion" is just an example, but Word of Life was ready for customers who wanted to know more about the subject and the movie.

The store has a mission statement: "Our motive is ministry, our method is retailing and our message is Christ."

When the store started, it carried primarily Bibles and Christian, God-centered books, but the store at 511 Joseph Drive just south of the Harrodsburg Wal-mart has grown way beyond that. There is a large assortment of cards and gifts, music, church and Sunday school supplies including communion trays and church robes, Christian art and prints, magnets, jewelry and baskets.

It carries the most popular CDs and tapes

The store carries the most popular, Top 40, CDs and tapes in both contemporary Christian and praise and worship music and a setup with headphones like many secular stores have where customers can listen to the music before they purchase it. There is also a booth where backup music cassette tapes can be heard.

However, if there is still something a customer wants that is not in the store, it can be ordered and received within a week. "We work pretty hard at that," Strickland said. The store kept growing, in part, because of inventory she and her customers wanted.

Christian art lines the walls, and while the store area is spacious, there are different offerings everywhere the eye wonders. There are areas that appeal to women, another for men, and there is a section in the back of the store for children with books and baby clothing and candy and cookies with scripture in or on the wrapping and a place for children to play while their parents shop.

Raised a Catholic, Strickland married a Baptist and they attend Immanuel Baptist Church on Faulkner Station Road. Customers come from all around Mercer County, including Anderson, Boyle, Garrard, Lincoln and Washington counties, and Strickland is grateful for them and the church staff members who shop in the store.

"I really appreciate their friendship and support," she says.

She is also grateful for her store manager, Rhonda Huffman, and each says about the other, "She's a beautiful woman." Strickland says she doesn't know what she would do without Huffman, who has worked in the store six years. Harry Strickland helps out keeping the card display in order, and a third employee is Trena Watts, a clerk.

"It's a joy to do the work of the Lord, here," Strickland concludes. "You don't do something for 25 years if you don't love what you're doing.

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