Christian bookstore does it 'His Way' and gets award


His Way Christian Book Store in Ellicott City operates in honor of "Him," owners Patricia and Richard Kohr say. And they say the blessings from being God-abiding have been many.

Having gained local attention for its huge assortment of Christian merchandise, the 18-year-old bookstore was named in July as the top Christian bookstore in the mid-Atlantic region by the Colorado-based Christian Booksellers Association (CBA).

His Way -- the county's largest independent Christian bookstore -- is the first Howard County Christian bookstore to receive the award.

"This store rose to the top of all the [300] stores . . . in the mid-Atlantic region," said William Anderson, president of the 45-year-old trade group.

His Way and about 5,000 other U.S. Christian bookstores have turned their trade into a $2.7 billion industry, he said, up from $1 billion in 1980.

Better products and customer service have helped make the stores popular, Mr. Anderson said, along with another reason: "A growing number of people are interested in products that help them integrate their faith into their daily lives."

To win the CBA award, nominees were judged on marketing, merchandising and financial, personnel and business management. There were 11 winners nationwide.

"It's an honor," Mrs. Kohr said, adding that her family has been so busy that it hasn't found a permanent spot for the store's first award. Last week, the glossy black-and-blue plaque sat on a desk in a storage room.

Situated in the Normandy Shopping Center on Baltimore National Pike, the store is open from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. "Where else can a person go six days a week?" Mrs. Kohr said. "Churches are closed."

Approaching the bookstore, customers view a 5-foot cross with a highlighted passage from the Psalms in the display window. Inside the store's entrance, a bulletin board lists concerts and announcements for those seeking Christian roommates.

The 4,000-square-foot store stocks more than 10,000 books and 2,500 musical selections. There also are plenty of Christian children's books, jewelry and religious greeting cards for sale.

In the back of the store stands an 8-foot-tall touch-screen children's video display and a machine that demonstrates Christian video games. "So instead of killing people and ripping their hearts out," youngsters can learn morals and values from games like "Joshua and the Battle of Jericho," said Chris Long, the store's manager and the Kohrs' son-in-law.

There are only "pure" Christian materials for sale, nothing New Age, Mrs. Kohr said.

His Way averages 100 to 125 patrons daily, Mr. Long, the manager, said. As a sign of its success, its owners opened a kiosk in The Mall in Columbia six months ago.

And Sept. 19, the Kohrs will celebrate the store's 18th anniversary.

Mrs. Kohr handles the customers and her husband oversees the financial aspect of the store. The book store generates more than $1 million in sales each year, the married couple of 36 years said. "She's great with people and I'm great with money," Mr. Kohr said. "It makes for a great team."

The store has five full-time and five part-time employees. The Kohrs' daughter, Sharon, also works there, along with her husband, Mr. Long.

With the $25,000 they borrowed and helped raise, the couple first opened the bookstore on Chevrolet Drive. Seven years ago, they moved to the current site.

DAlthough God is at the crux of the store, it's still a business. "We don't expect the Lord to come down and pay our bills," Mrs. Kohr said.

As Christian music played over the speakers one recent day, 29-year-old John Kim of Columbia's Harper's Choice village searched for a compact disc. Minutes later, Irene Wilson, 47, of Clarksville looked for materials for a Thursday night Bible study class. Ms. Wilson said the store has been part of her shopping life for 15 years.

In addition to shopping, customers seek inspiration when they enter the store, the family said. Some even pray for one another, including Mrs. Kohr's mother, Katherine Farrar, who died of lung cancer last week.

"People just gravitate to you," Mrs. Kohr said. "I call it the counterpart to a bar. People open up here just like sitting at a bar."

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