Christian General Store

 Chapter 25 

The $3000 dollars Barry Ellegant gave to Cliff became the seed money for a Christian bookstore. Up to that point there were only two places in Marin County to buy Bibles and other Christian literature: Golden Gate Seminary’s bookstore and a small one in San Rafael, operated by some staunch, conservative hardliners who did not care much for the Jesus People. This store closed sometime in 1968 or 1969, and I had it in the back of my mind to start one myself, so the timing of the gift of $3000 may even have been the hand of God. 

I’m not sure how or when these ideas had come to me, but for some years I had entertained hopes of doing certain things in my life: (1) Open a Christian bookstore, (2) Write books, (3) Have a missionary-sending ministry, and (4) Start a Christian publishing house. This was the time for the store. 

Our group of elders came mostly from the leaders of our Christian houses—Mark Buckley, Kenny Sanders, and Cliff Silliman primarily. They met together, discussed what to do with the money, and agreed to the bookstore, no doubt due to the influence I had at the time. Two things needed to be done: Find someone to operate the store itself, and find a location. 

Kristina (“Kris”) Kenner began trusting in Jesus as a student at Redwood High School in Larkspur due to our witnessing at that school. Soon I met her mother, Betty, and in a rather short time both Chris and Betty became residents of Christian houses. Kris moved into our Zion’s Inn and became the best help with me in painting houses, our chief way of earning money at that time. Betty had been suffering with alcohol and marriage problems, but she turned out to be an exceptional Christian and was soon placed in charge of a new house. Her Christianity blossomed, and she was well regarded by us  all. She was the natural choice to be manager of the store and did an excellent job. She was a real gift to many of us. 

Once Betty consented to manage the store, we began a search for a location. There had been an Arthur Murray dance studio on the second floor of 2130 Fourth St. in San Rafael, but it had closed. It was a large space in a commercial building, with a Japanese restaurant on the first floor. An aging Italian couple owned the building, and we were able to work out a deal with them to rent the space. It was beautiful and was divided into three sections. In the large room in the back I made my office, the first I ever had, and I occupied it until 1980. It was in that office that one of the more significant ministries of my life began to unfold. But that is another story. 

The store did not do well at first. Cliff and I, with a few others, painted the walls, made signs, built book shelves, etc. However, we made a bad buy—hundreds of a poorly printed paperback edition of the King James Bible that did not sell—but we had made a start. The $3,000 did not go far, and there were not nearly enough books to fill up the shelves, but house leaders found ways to put money into inventory, Christians in Marin supported the store as they could, and slowly we took hold. 

After the San Rafael store came one in Novato, then Petaluma, San Francisco, Pt. Reyes, Sonoma, and Redwood City. None was highly successful; in fact, most of the time, they had to receive help from the churches we had planted in the nearby area. The real benefit was their being a base to generate other ministries. 

One by one, these stores closed; not one of them exists to this day. This was probably due to my inability to promote them, although very few “brick and mortar” Christian stores exist anywhere in this region of the country anymore, overtaken by the ease and selection of items available on the Internet. 

The Christian General Store—my memories of it are yet vivid and mostly pleasant. The building is still there, with a McDonald’s next door to it now, and tears sometimes well up in my eyes as I drive by. On an occasion or two, I have parked in the old familiar spot in back of the building and walked around the neighborhood where I once walked with counseling clients. It was within that store that the Marin Christian Counseling Center operated.

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