Mustard Seed to close Springfield store next month

TIM LANDIS

A family-owned Christian bookstore that has been in business nearly 35 years expects to close its Springfield outlet by the middle of next month.

Jan Keller, a second-generation co-owner of the Mustard Seed, said the decision resulted from

uncertainty over a lease in Fairhills Mall, the economy and the decision to focus on a remaining store in Quincy.

“People ask me why, and it was just a combination of factors,” Keller said Wednesday. “Everybody’s down in this economy, but we’re not hurting. We just wanted some cushion.”

The Mustard Seed Outlet, as the business has been known since relocating to the mall at Chatham Road and Monroe Street in 2007, also is one a handful of independent bookstores remaining in the market.

Keller said it was a difficult decision to let the store go. The business has one full-time and five part-time employees.

Her parents, Paul and Rosemary Lawler, opened the first Mustard Seed — the name is taken from a biblical passage — in 1975 a few blocks away at Governor Street and Lincoln

Avenue. The Springfield store moved to White Oaks Mall in 2002, and five years later, to Fairhills, where the business shifted to a discount, outlet format.

The family also had stores at one point in Decatur and Bloomington. Keller’s brother, Jay, operates the store in Quincy that opened in 1984.

Keller said the lease with mall owner Centro Properties Group is scheduled to expire at the end of the year, adding that Centro also indicated it might exercise a provision that would

require the store to move on short notice.

“They indicated another business is interested in this spot,” Keller said.

Springfield resident Joel Satterfield, who was among customers browsing the store Wednesday, said he has shopped the Mustard Seed from its earliest days.

“They have something that the other bookstores don’t have. The independents have a larger selection of (religious) books and gifts that the big bookstores like Barnes & Noble don’t have,” Satterfield said.

He said he also liked the fact the business is family owned.

The Family Christian Store in Parkway Pointe Shopping Center on Veterans Parkway is owned by Family Christian Stores, which has about 300 outlets nationwide.

Marian Center Religious Supplies & Books at 313 E. Monroe St. also is locally owned.

Store clerk Bernie Eigenmann of Williamsville described herself as “still in shock.” She said she was a customer of the Mustard Seed for decades, including at the first store, before going to work for the family eight years ago.

“Back when it was on Governor, it was a meeting place for Bible studies and prayer meetings. Paul and Rosemary really had a heart for the community,” Eigenmann said.

Keller said inventory that isn’t sold before mid-January would be moved to the Quincy store, adding that she planned to handle the bookwork and other behind-the-scenes responsibilities for the Quincy location.

While it was not a deciding factor, Keller said independents also face more competition from big-box retailers for religious books, music and gifts, including Wal-Mart.

“It’s a good thing, I guess, in the sense that people who wouldn’t set foot in a Christian bookstore can stumble on it at Wal-Mart,” Keller said.

Tim Landis can be reached at 788-1536.

The Mustard Seed

* Paul and Rosemary Lawler opened the first store at Governor Street and Lincoln Avenue in 1975. Springfield store moved to White Oaks Mall in 2002 and to Fairhills Mall in 2007, where the name changed to Mustard Seed Outlet.

* A second store opened in Quincy in 1984 will remain open. Sister-brother Jan Keller and Jay Lawler are co-owners.

Fairhills owners

Fairhills Mall, 1911 W. Monroe St., was opened by the late Springfield developer Leonard Sapp in 1974. Sapp also developed Sangamon Center North on Sangamon Avenue and Parkway Pointe on Veterans Parkway.

Here is a list of owners since Sapp sold the mall in 1997:

* Bradley Real Estate, Chicago, 1997-2001.

* Heritage Property Investment, Boston, 2001-06.

* Centro Properties Group, Brisbane, Australia, 2006-present.

Source: Archives of The State Journal-Register.

Top-selling titles

According to the Association of American Publishers, religious titles were among the top-selling categories in 2008. The breakdown by sales:

* Adult/juvenile: $8.1 billion

* Educational, K-12: $6.1 billion

* Educational, higher education: $3.8 billion

* Mass-market paperbacks: $1.1 billion

* Religious: $724 million