When Jean Yates opened her Westminster store The Mustard Seed in 2003, she said, it was a day of excitement, with balloons filling the front window in celebration.

Now, as she plans to close the doors in mid-June, Yates is filled with gratitude for unexpected rewards she found along the way.

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It all began, she said, when she read an article in the Carroll County Times about the only local Christian bookstore closing.

“After much prayer, I felt a calling to open a new one,” she said. “Everything miraculously fell into place as He led me to open The Mustard Seed.”

A former graphic artist, Yates designed the tree that became the store logo.

“I have always loved the parable of the mustard seed and its application to our lives,” she said of why she chose the name. “ ‘I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you,’” she recalled the words from Matthew 17:20 in the Bible.

Back then, Yates’ friend Diana Jones helped her set up the store, becoming her first employee. She still works there today. Over the years, the store grew to include five employees and a customer base that extended to several states.

“The customers have been incredibly supportive, with many friendships blossoming,” Yates said. “What I had originally thought was a business fast become a ministry to me and my wonderful and devoted staff. We love our dear customers and have enjoyed getting to know them, praying with them and helping to provide for their specific needs — whether it be a Bible, a gift, [or other items]. It has been such a privilege, joy and blessing in serving.”

Yates’ husband Brad agreed.

Year in Review: TownMall evolves

TownMall of Westminster evolved in 2018, after a change in ownership the previous year, incorporating local businesses, such as the Cob51 art studio and R/C Theatres, which installed reclining seats in the theater.

“We’ve prayed for them and with them, right here at the desk” he said. “I’ve been able to discuss Scripture with them and have learned a lot.”

It was just after the store came into her life that Brad also arrived.

“She started the store on October 10 of 2003, and I met her May 11 of 2004,” he said. “I was a physical therapist and had sold my practice. I was working part time in that [field] and part time for nine years at Barnes and Noble, so I knew books.”

After discovering the store and its many unique items, customers faithfully returned again and again.

“I’ve been coming here for maybe 10 years now,” said customer Tracie Wroten as she shopped with her 15-year-old son, Adam. “We look for gifts, for different sacraments, Christmas gifts … usually I am looking for things for other people. It’s sad that they are closing. There’s no one in Carroll County that carries the items they do. We are going to miss having them here.”

Adam echoed her thoughts.

“I have actually been able to find a bunch of CDs here,” he said. “I like Christian music and Christian rock, and they have a good variety.”

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Yates said that with the closing of many stores and restaurants also in the mall, and less customers coming in, she’d been praying for direction. Now her life will take a new one.

“I will be joining my husband Brad in retirement,” she said. “He has faithfully helped at the store all these years. We’re looking forward to traveling — possibly a mission trip to Brazil in the fall — watching more of my grandchildren’s games and hopefully reading the two stacks of books by my bedside. I’m excited and open about where God will lead me in this new chapter of life.”

Customer Donald Myers was shopping in the store on April 26, something he’d done in the past.

Sears to leave TownMall of Westminster, movie recliners coming in, Mustard Seed celebrating anniversary

TownMall of Westminster is evolving. Since the local landmark was acquired in December 2017 by Baltimore-based real estate firm Himmelrich Associates, it has seen new stores open — and a big one close.

“The kindness and compassion of the people here brings me back,” he said. “I hate to see them go, but I pray that God’s will will be done in their lives as they continue on.”

Others expressed the same mixed emotions. Marilyn Shipley said she came to know Yates at a community Bible study they both attend at Westminster Baptist Church.

“I feel badly that the store is closing. It’s rare to find in one location so much material for expressing feelings from a faith point of view,” she said. “But I’m excited for them for whatever their next adventure is, because they have put a lot of years into this store.”

Yates spoke of the joy these customers bring.

“I am humbled and touched by their willingness to share their testimonies, their faith, their struggles and prayer requests,” she said. “Growing together, loving and supporting each other through our journeys in life is God’s design for us.”

Then, she spoke of two girls who have made a difference at the store.

“We have a Down syndrome girl, Jenny [Laatsch], who comes in once a week from Target to work for us, and Maggie [Peit] comes in from Change [Inc.] once a week. Having Jenny and Maggie here, helping us with the cards and helping us straighten up things has truly been a blessing to us here at the Mustard Seed,” she said.

As a customer, Rita Roberts of Eldersburg had been excited to discover the store, but now she was disappointed.

“It is a nice store and I am sorry to see that it’s closing,” Roberts said. “They have a lot of literature and gifts and other nice things.”

Yates spoke of items The Mustard Seed carries, adding that she intended to put them on sale for 60% off.

“We sell Bibles, Christian books, anniversary and wedding gifts, Christian jewelry, a lot of pictures, small gifts — like those for teachers — and cards for all occasions. My girls are great in finding things people want — special orders, even books that were written a long time ago.”

Searching for items for her customers has also brought joy.

“I can’t tell you how much enjoyment I’ve had looking at catalogs and going to the big shows to pick out merchandise for the store,” Yates said. “Often, I have specific customers in mind. We have one fellow here, Dave, that we call the Hat Man. Every time I go to a show, I try to pick up a couple new hats for him.”

Customer Beth Cibula from Littlestown, Pennsylvania, stood quietly, looking around the store.

“I am really sad because this is one of the only places around where you can get true joy out of just walking through the store,” she said. “It will be sad to see it go. Whenever I come to Westminster, this is the first place on my list.”

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