Working at The Book Parlor “shapes and stretches” Casey Laughary’s faith as he interacts with people who are on the margins, homeless or struggling with addictions.
Part of the store’s mission is selling books, fair-trade gifts and local art, and part is being present with people in the neighborhood who drop in for books, or for coffee and food at the adjacent Indaba Coffee shop.
Both business-ministries are on the storefront level of Walnut Corners, 1425 W. Broadway Ave., which houses 18 chronically mentally ill residents in low-income apartments. It’s across the street from Salem Lutheran Church, which first opened The Book Parlor in a house beside the church.
Behind the church is another low-income apartment complex for 29 singles and families.
“I see how people who drop in keep hope and joy in the midst of their lives,” Laughary says. “Rather than looking at wealthy people and thinking, ‘Woe is me,’ I realize that I am blessed. I am not trapped by the materialist culture that says I need the latest and newest.”
Six years ago, he started working part-time at The Book Parlor when it was in the house. He lived in an upstairs apartment for free. Eventually, his job grew to full-time manager.
The Book Parlor started in 2001 to provide theological resources and promote theological discussion. Now it is a full-service neighborhood bookstore, as well as a Christian bookstore, offering more than 10,000 books – 5,000 on the shelves and 6,000 online.
It sells used fiction and nonfiction books for 50 cents and up, so it costs less for people in the neighborhood to buy a book there than to go by bus or car to the library.
The Book Parlor is a ministry of Salem Lutheran, a partner in Spokane Urban Ministries with All Saints Lutheran, the former Emmanuel, Grace and St. Paul Lutheran churches.
Spokane Urban Ministries broke ground on Walnut Corners in July 2008. In September 2008, the economy soured and a bank loan fell apart, so the state stepped up with a short-term loan, Laughary says.
“It took miracles for this to come about,” he says. “No banks were lending and we had to finish it in a year.”
In September 2009, The Book Parlor moved into Walnut Corners, sharing the retail space with Indaba Coffee.
“Indaba” in Zulu means “gathering,” particularly for discussing politics. Many who come are from nearby businesses and the Spokane County Courthouse down the street.
The shift from a house to a retail space close to the sidewalk has brought more walk-ins from the neighborhood to the Book Parlor. However, fewer people just released from jail stop in, because it’s a more “public” space than the house.
“We have a space for neighbors to meet neighbors,” Laughary says. “People who would not come to church come here. People see us as part of the neighborhood.”
The Book Parlor, Indaba Coffee and Katie’s Table, which offered sandwiches and groceries, started as “The Commons.”
Indaba now makes and sells sandwiches.When book business is slow and food business is busy, Laughary, who has a food handler’s permit, can help Indaba.
Bobby Enslow, co-owner of Indaba, has lived on tips and no salary to make the venture work through the tough economy.
His pastor at The Porch, Dave Wilkinson, comes every day, along with Moody Bible College students who work at Christ the Redeemer Church. Youth for Christ and Spokane Urban Ministries meet there.
As an example of the spirit of ministry, Laughary tells of a man who came in near closing time. Business was slow, so Laughary struck up a conversation with him and learned he had a head trauma injury from service in Afghanistan. Listening led to conversing about faith.
“People often tell of faith struggles,” says Laughary, who stayed half an hour after closing to talk to the man. “This is a place of presence. We need to be there to let people unload.”
The ministry also includes speakers, events, discussion groups and book clubs. The Book Parlor is gearing up to have monthly events and educational programs in 2011.
Wednesday evenings since Oct. 27, there has been a contemplative service, Open Table, led by Liv Larson Andrews, associate pastor at Salem Lutheran. About 15 people come at 5:15 p.m. for meditation, followed by Eucharist at 6 p.m.
“Open Table gathers people’s hurts and hopes together in the presence of Jesus with silence, song, prayer, bread and wine,” Laughary says.
Salem Lutheran’s Walk and Pray group gathers at 9 a.m. Mondays at The Book Parlor to go out through the neighborhood.
“They see needs the church would not see if they stayed inside the church walls,” Laughary says.
To help people serve neighbors, a drop box sits by the door for people to leave donations to Our Place Community Ministries nearby.
The Book Parlor also has Christian supplies, candles and communion cups for sale and can order other church-related items, including curricula. The religious books are ecumenical and interfaith, offering many perspectives.
The West Central Community’s Project Hope sells its T-shirts for Jobs Not Jails. Project Hope’s community gardens, Vinegar Flats Garden, The Porch’s garden, New Leaf Bakery and a few other vendors offered a weekly farmer’s market in the parking lot of Christ the Redeemer across the street during the summer.
Another service is free Wi-Fi and a community computer where people can check e-mails.
Says Laughary: “I have learned how to live my faith, not just live it for me personally but live it by contributing to the neighborhood.”