The 75-year-old Baltimore resident stood near the eight cashregisters of the spanking new megastore--billed as the largestChristian bookstore in the world--with her hands full. She carriedbooks for her great-grandchildren, a carton of the multigrain, nondairybeverage she drinks instead of cow's milk, and a vegetarian cookbook.
Sandwiched between a Target and a Petsmart, the 40,000-square-footstore has more than quadrupled in size from the nearby Takoma Park, Md.,location it left behind.
"There's more room here," said Scott, a Seventh-day Adventist whohas visited the store at its previous locations for more than 40 years."Since it's so large, there's more to choose from. They have everythinghere."
Since early March, shoppers have trickled into the store ahead ofits official opening on Sunday (April 9). Impressed by its size, theysay they now find themselves having to resist the temptation of buyingtoo many things.
Clyde Kinder, the store's general manager and a Christian retailerfor 45 years, recalls being part of a staff of three at a mom-and-popstore in Lincoln, Neb. Though he says traditional stores continue tofill a niche, he thinks the small but growing number of megastores likehis have become the best way to meet the multifaceted needs of Christianconsumers.
"I think that is the future of the Christian bookstore market," hesaid. "The smaller stores just cannot carry enough product to fill everyneed that the people have and so in order to meet that demand and tomeet that challenge you've got to go to the larger megastore."
Christian retailing experts confirm that Kinder's store is thebiggest based on square footage, far exceeding the size of the averageChristian bookstore, which covers 3,550 square feet. They say only about5 percent of Christian stores could be considered megastores.
"I don't know of another one that's larger than 40,000 squarefeet," said Bill Anderson, president of CBA, a Colorado Springs,Colo.-based organization of Christian retailers.
He said Christian stores--even ones that don't merit the "mega"prefix--are attempting to find ways to increase their inventory,sometimes stocking merchandise higher on their walls when they can'tafford to expand their square footage.
"I think the depth and breadth of inventory is a very important partof successful retailing in order to compete with megastores and theInternet," said Anderson, referring to both secular and Christianstores.
Distinguishing itself from the nearby secular shoppingestablishments, the Potomac Adventist store has a life-size bronzestatue in its entranceway that depicts Jesus washing the feet of hisdisciple Peter.
"What we want to do is we want them to recognize that we are aChristian store," Kinder said of potential customers. "We think thattells them."
Inside the store, there's no question about its mission. Steps awayfrom the multiple sets of automatic doors are books by popular Christianauthors James Dobson, T.D. Jakes and Chuck Swindoll.
Aisles are categorized by Christian interest topic, from a plethoraof Bibles to volumes focused on family life, spiritual growth and moneymanagement to books aimed at particular demographic groups--African-Americans, teens, mothers, fathers, singles.
Although affiliated with the Potomac Conference of the Seventh-dayAdventist Church, the store provides open accounts to local churchesrepresenting 23 other denominations. Kinder has found thatnon-Seventh-day Adventists far outnumber their Adventist customers.
Two women visiting from Florida stopped by the store to buy one book-- and found themselves heading out with several other inspirational texts on prayer and fasting.
"I wanted everything," said Mary Nightingale, 35, who attends anondenominational church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and was shopping with hergodmother. "Everything you see, you want to buy it."
In the music section, Christian recordings ranging from pop tocountry are on sale in an area accented with a contemporary videoscreen, 20 listening stations and two booths for singers to try outaccompaniment tapes. Gospel artist CeCe Winans already has paid a visitto the store for a book signing and contemporary Christian musicianSandi Patty is scheduled to present a mini-concert during the weeklonggrand opening activities.
While books and music are the staples of any Christian bookstore,the Potomac Adventist store offers many of the elements of othermegastores--including a gift section, a children's play area with avideo screen featuring the popular VeggieTales animated series, and asmall stage for book signings and performances. There's also a 200-seatauditorium in the back of the store that's being used for a weeklychurch service as well as meetings for local schools and pastors.