Long History of Exodus
Chapter 1: In the Beginning
The photos for the past 25 years of Exodus include a lot of piles of books and shelf arrangements, a lot of clutter and messes. You can get an idea of how the store has taken shape, but in the early days, pre-digital cameras, we didn't take a lot of pictures. So in this first chapter, we focus on some of the people who got Exodus off the ground!
And that wasn't me. When Exodus first started, in 1994, I was a gangly freshman in high school, fully intent on pursuing a career in music. I was around, but not involved, other than drawing ideas for logos.
My Uncle Richard and his family get the early credit. They had been hugely influential in getting my parents to bring us home in the early 80s. Some of his influences were Dennis Tuuri (director of Parents Education Association PAC, who, along with some of the folks from OCEAN, had been a huge part of making Oregon more free for home school families) and Curt & Jenny Bumcrot (owners of Basic Skills).
The Mahars decided to launch Exodus Multimedia Services in 1994 to assist two main groups of people: home school families and Christians, whether or not they overlapped. They envisioned a store filled with new and used curriculum, beautiful and crafty products consigned from locals, and a library of deep theology books and Bible software. (The Multimedia Services part of the name didn't last long: Richard shortened it to Provisions before moving the first time.)
Exodus started across the parking lot from where we are now. There was just a field here. But old Henry Frahm was developing the property, and by 1997, this building was built with Basic Skills and Exodus in mind, and we moved in. I could, unfortunately, find only one photo of the original space, when they were already almost moved out, but you can see the space was tiny!
During my senior year of high school, I studied extensively with Richard's son Isaac. He was in line to run Exodus, and he and I discussed at length career ideas, college plans and business ownership. By graduation, he had decided against a career with Exodus and I had abandoned the ideas of careers in music or movie animation. When Richard announced that he had decided to sell Exodus, I jumped at the chance, and spent the next six months training with them, before signing papers to purchase the business on April 1.
Chapter 2: Eli's Early Years.
Although the Mahar's first move had nearly tripled the space, Exodus was still a very small operation. This photograph shows the space as it was when I first took over, and the old sketch depicts an early layout. New books were on the left hand side of the store, used on the right.
At nineteen, I was naive enough to think I knew what was needed to run and grow a bookstore. I didn't, but it's amazing how God provided the tools and people needed to make it happen anyway. Prior to Exodus, I had run the sheet music section of a local bookstore, so I had some limited experience in managing inventory and working with a budget, but I knew nothing of what was needed to hire and train employees, develop systems, create a catalog, develop a website, advise Moms... The first few years were an enormous learning curve on a number of fronts.
So it has always been important for me to listen to all of you! The early conversations had a huge impact on me, forcing me to dig deeper into what curricula we had and develop our selection to meet needs and desires I didn't previously know existed. One of my goals was to encourage families to read good literature. So, using the then-current Honey for a Child's Heart, I started drafting a list of books I would want to carry--that list hasn't stopped growing since! When it was about 20 pages of single-spaced titles, I printed it out and asked eighteen customers I respected for their suggestions. Amazingly, about half of them got back to me with lists all marked up.
Our processes early on were terribly inefficient. We used a sales book for receipts at the beginning, and would later enter these into Quickbooks, which we used for inventory; but its purchase order system was no good for a bookstore. For "used requests," we first used a notepad which I had to visually look over during every book buy, then started a searchable computer document. I quickly realized that these were not good long-term solutions, and started seeking out help from guys in my church who knew databases. Two guys in particular, Jeff Cone and Matt Lyons, began to mentor me and help me build what became the original printed catalogs and, eventually, the website! (We'll talk about these guys on Thursday and Friday.)
The Mahars' original asking price for Exodus was $25K, and they gave me six years to pay it off; I don't like debt and didn't want it to take that long, so I used all the profits to either build inventory or increase payments, paying it off in just over two years. (My parents graciously gave me free rent during this period and for income, I worked in the evenings for Basic Skills, scoring achievement tests.) From then on, I could focus on growth!
Chapter 3: First Employees & Early Growth
We were pretty reliant on Basic Skills during those early years. The home school parents who dropped off students at their New Covenant Christian Academy were a steady source of support and testing days were usually the most important days we were open. But as I hired early staff (Jeni Isaacson, my sister Leah, Nathan Dahlin, and my cousin Grace) and inventory quickly grew, we realized we were running out of space. (And this, ladies & gentlemen, is the perpetual story of Exodus...)
In 1999, the home school law in Oregon changed (https://www.oceanetwork.org/homeschool-history/), and testing went from being required annually to only grades 3, 5, 8, and 10. While we celebrated the new freedom and flexibility this offered home school families, it had a direct impact on Basic Skills, who relied on testing funds to supplement their elementary classes. They had to let their two large classrooms next to Exodus go. We happily snapped up the first one (wishing we could afford the second) and we cut a doorway through the wall and moved our used books in there.
In 2002, the next space was available again, and we cut another doorway. At this point, we had a front counter custom built for us by my friend Kyle Sindlinger (I loved that counter!), and moved all the new books into the center and newest room, and the used books back into the first room. We also got some couches.
Although the store would always keep me busy during the summer, there were plenty of quiet moments throughout the school year. Three of my siblings took NCCA classes next door, and between classes, those couches got put to use. Exodus became the defacto hangout spot for a number of students. A number of these became friends that I enjoy seeing to this day.
I soon realized that although I wanted Exodus to remain a Christian bookstore, its emphasis had to be books on family, child-raising, etc. Big theology tomes were not where we needed to focus, so within a few months of taking over, I sold the volumes I didn't know to Pilgrim's Discount (an amazing but now defunct Christian bookstore in Portland).
Chapter 4: Jeff Cone and the Printed Catalogs
As I said on Tuesday, two men in particular mentored me in the process of building processes that would make Exodus sustainable for me and a small crew. The first of these was Jeff Cone. I still owe an enormous debt to Jeff, who self-sacrificially spent many, MANY hours helping me pull the information out of Quickbooks, put it into a MS Access database, and then playing with the information until we could print a "catalog."
By winter 1999 we had printed a *really* boring-looking 72 page catalog. It was newsprint, and had no pictures. The section for literature (picture books to biographies) was just eleven pages and offered little more than titles, authors, and recommended ages for each. (This was before we'd had those respected customers give us their suggestions, but inspired some of the questions we asked them the next year!)
I think the catalog became something of a pet hobby for him, because Jeff continued to help me for the next three years, adding fields and options that allowed me to develop and massage it into something I was really proud of.
The next year, the catalog was 74 pages, and the literature section remained 11 pages, but we had developed tighter formatting (removing the recommended ages), so this was growth! That winter, I crafted a small 8-page brochure (in Word, of all places! Unfortunately, I couldn't find a copy to photograph.), and this was the first time we used pictures of book covers. (This was also when we first advertised The Princess Bride, the Tintin comics, and the Horatio Hornblower series, all of which we still carry, and which have become "best" sellers for Exodus.)
So with our 2001-02 (blue catalog), we started adding occasional pictures. The catalog extended to 84 pages, the literature section filling 17 of those. My friend Steve Shubin designed the cover for this one, using the painting Mount Sinai, Exodus 20 by artist Paul Carlson. We thought this picture very apt, considering our name.
The fourth (purple) "Christian Resource & Reader's Guide was a bigger undertaking, reaching 138 pages. It was a huge step up, and is the one I remember most fondly to this day. By this point, we'd added summaries to pretty much every curriculum line we offered, and we added both pictures and brief descriptions to nearly every Christian book and classic listed. The lit/fiction section blossomed to a full 56 pages! The painting on the front of this one was an imaginative rendition of Mount Hermon in Israel. We intended it as a representation of Psalm 133 and wanted to emphasize the idea of "Unity & Truth" among brethren. The catalog even had verses with that theme along the bottom of every other page!
It was during 2001-2002 that I was exposed to the beautiful Veritas Press and Vision Forum catalogs, and I could never be content with black & white, database-driven catalogs again. We've done a few, much smaller, full-color brochures since, but have focused on the website instead. I can't even guess how long the literature section would be now! (Ok, I'll guess: at about 12-14 books per page, between 800-1200 pages!)
Chapter 5: The Lyons Family and the Website
The website has been absolutely HUGE in the history of Exodus, and it wouldn't have existed without the Lyons family. Matt was just getting started on his web development business (you can learn more at lyonscom.com) when he started helping me in 1998, and he was able to take Jeff's MS Access database, plug it into our first website, and develop the e-commerce side.
The first site, launched in October 2000, was a beginning, but it didn't look like much. While the catalog was there, it was extremely small, completely focused on browsing alphabetically, with no pictures of books and no search capability at all. The second site, released in September 2001, was a huge upgrade, built to match our blue catalog, with improved browsing options and our first search engine (which was AWFUL).
While Matt made the first and later websites possible, his wife Karen and six kids all became incredibly dear to me; the Lyons connection took on a more personal bent. Their oldest daughter Amanda started working at Exodus, but within a month I had to admit to them that I was seriously attracted. Being pro-courtship folks, they decided then that it might be best if she "work remotely" for a while. She wrote quite a few of the short literature summaries for our purple Resource Guide, and I discovered she had a serious talent for website design. By the time Exodus launched version 3 in August 2005, Amanda and I were married, and the redesign included a personal component--a "family" site had been built to match.
Amanda's brother Zachary had also became more involved by this time, and site developments began to arrive in rapid succession. We refined navigation and search tools, and continued to develop browsing abilities, coming up with what I considered revolutionary: Our "Custom Catalog Browser." Apparently, it wasn't as cool as I thought, and by the time we launched the next site iteration, we'd abandoned the tool.
Version 4, launched July 3, 2008 , was (imho) the most beautiful of all the versions we've built. It had four distinct headers that reflected what Exodus was about: one for the main store, and one for the sections of "education, edification, and enjoyment" (curriculum, Christian books, and literature). During the time of this version, we were finally able to move away from Quickbooks and Word as we completely revamped the back end, fully integrating inventory and used book buying, and developing our own accounting tools! We didn't change the look for versions 5 & 6, but focused on adding so many tools: featured items, the used request system, customer reviews, a more robust search engine, a newsletter system, an affiliate program, and much more. It was also during this time that Caleb came into his own, writing hundreds of reviews of both full curricula lines and individual titles.
But we were told over and over again that it was "too dark" and didn't look "modern enough." With version 7, presented in June 2012, we refreshed and brightened the look, making the design more intuitive, adding moving carousels and related items on each book, beginning to offer wishlists, and finally allowing people to purchase and use gift certificates in the shopping cart. Version 8, launched quietly in September 2015, focused on making the site mobile compatible, and required little work from us--it was all about making suitable compromises. We didn't add many tools, but changed some of our filter tools into versions that could work on a tablet or phone. As far as I was concerned, we had completed the goals I had envisioned for the site from day one, and I could now refocus my life on family. The store could focus its efforts on expanding inventory and things like the summer reading program!
We've had a lot of personal struggles over the last few years, so website development hasn't been a priority recently. The current site was modernized in 2018 by the other owners, though I changed a few things back after retaking possession. (That's a story for next week!) Some tools (like the newsletter system) are still broken from that period and we haven't had the capacity to fix them, but we're hoping that will change in the near future!
Chapter 6: Amanda and the Big Move
In 2004, I was approached by the Bumcrots. NCCA classes were struggling, and they needed to reduce expenses, but the only space they could feasibly let go was their sizable back room. Would we want to take that over? Since it would not be available to the public, we started to set up our first "warehouse" space.
Amanda and I were engaged by then, and I took a break from that project in March 2005 to get married and go on a honeymoon. When we got back, Amanda started working full-time in the store. This was short-lived, because Joshua was on the way less than a month later! But in the short time she was there, she'd added her own touch to the look of the store, and by early 2006, we'd made some significant upgrades to shelving and displays. She later created a post with a "virtual tour." /family/photo-album.aspx?id=85
I'd always dreamed about making Exodus a destination location. I envisioned a piece of property in the country, where we could combine business and home, and where kids could safely play outside while their parents shopped. To begin evaluating whether that was a good idea, I took a one-month sabbatical from the store late in 2006, to work on the website reviews with Amanda. We learned that while we both had lots of good ideas, we could NOT work well together. We were both very independent and Amanda had a hard time taking my directions. Since I tended to micro-manage (I've gotten better at not doing this!), this was a problem for the writing process!
My internal response to this was subtle, but I recognize it in hindsight as an issue. Instead of attempting to live with Amanda in an understanding way, I pulled away and decided to pursue building Exodus with or without her help, setting up a tension that caused a lot of future unhappiness. I resigned myself to finding someone else to help me with the massive review project and Exodus hired Caleb—C. Hollis Crossman—shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile, true to form, Exodus continued to expand, and a couple of years later we asked Mr. Frahm, the owner of the building, if we might cut a doorway through the wall to the big back room, and start looking for a separate warehouse space. It was the first time he said no. We'd maxed out our space in that building.
In June 2008, coming back from the OCEAN Conference, I notice a "for rent" sign on the building that I remembered from childhood as the Hallmark/Colonial Office Supply on McLoughlin Blvd., just down the street from where my grandpa had worked in Gladstone, and where my dad still did. I thought it would be pretty epic to have three generations work on that strip of road, and mentioned to Amanda, "we should look into that building." During the unpacking from the conference, we promptly forgot about it. But just a couple of weeks later, a customer teasingly asked if we were looking for a new space. She just happened to be a realtor, and when we mentioned the building, she got us a tour! It was expensive but within reach, and the space was ideal, so we decided to take the plunge and opened our doors there on October 20. The two stories here (/family/photo-album.aspx?id=105) and here (/family/photo-album.aspx?id=106) tell this in more depth.
But, again, that was 2008. Remember that year? God blessed us, and for the next seven years, while we added staff and sales ticked up, the economy was not keeping pace and expenses to keep the place operational were rising faster than income. We bought a house in 2012, but by the end of 2015, I began to realize we'd maybe bitten off more than we could chew...
Chapter 7: The Dream Team
I want to take a break from the story here to talk about that amazing staff I mentioned before. Honestly, I think part of the reason we began struggling financially is I didn't want to let anyone go. That would have been prudent, but every single member was awesome—it was SO MUCH FUN to go to work every single day.
There have been so many great staff members over the years (and I'm sorry to the numerous employees not listed; I appreciate all of you, but the following left distinct fingerprints on the store). There are certainly too many to mention at once, so I'm going to split them up into two main groups. There was some overlap, but I'm going to call the first the "Dream Team."
The main (longest running) members of this group were Jonathan Winslow, Caleb Crossman, Zach Paul, Joseph Forster, Hadley Payne (née Ayers), Nathan Furumasu, and Lauren Shearer. We have a "Staff Favorites" section on the website, and that section started with these fantastic people. A bonus member, who was not here long, but does not get enough credit for all that she did, was Natalie Evans (née Poindexter).
Jonathan Winslow was the earliest of these. I hired him before marrying Amanda, and he and Leah ran the store when I took that 2006 sabbatical. He was an idea guy and we had our clashes, but I valued his focus on customer service, his missional heart, and his willingness to challenge me if he had ethical concerns over how we operated. I have to admit, there were times in which I was fairly rebuked, and his comments kept me honest to the store vision. He left after marrying Laura in 2012, and has since pursued his lifelong goal of foreign missions work.
Caleb was, without doubt, the most valuable employee we ever had, and the one to whose care I would leave the store if I died. We hired him as a book buyer and reviewer in 2007, and he performed both roles admirably, full-time at first, then (after he married Kristin in 2012) off and on until he moved with his family out-of-state in 2021. We've had a lot of very smart staff members over the years, but he's the only one I sincerely consider a legitimate genius. Somewhat in awe of him, I sometimes deferred to his ideas even when I disagreed, and that led us down some unique trails—not always profitable, but always educational! He helped me shape the Christian and literature sections of the store more than anyone else has, and wrote more than 700 book reviews, plus most of the curriculum reviews on our site. I will always be thankful for his work here and consider him a treasured friend. (He introduced me to many great books, one of which is my favorite novel, Book of the Dun Cow.)
I would probably never have hired Zach Paul on his own. But in 2008, shortly after moving into the McLoughlin building and after spending pretty much ALL of our savings reserves, we had nearly two weeks of deep snow, basically killing that Christmas season. Customers couldn't get to us; WE couldn't even get to the store, meaning that quite a number of Christmas orders had to be cancelled and refunded. I was forced to temporarily lay off everyone. Zach's mom Wendy was one of our most dedicated customers at that point and she volunteered herself and her two sons, Zach and Eli (yes, another Eli), to work there until we were no longer desperate! Zach took to it, and like a bulldog, tenaciously logged in many hundreds of hours of data entry, before moving with his family out of state.
Joseph Forster was a member of our church, and the childhood sweetheart of Amanda's best friend Hannah. Very musical, he had just completed a Bachelor of Arts in music from George Fox University, with the understanding that he'd be hired by our church as music director. That fell through, and he was all of a sudden at a loss for the means to marry his girl. We needed an office manager, and offered him the position in 2009. Though it was not his thing, he bravely took the job, and he and Hannah married in 2010. It was not really a long-term full-time position, though, so he started diversifying, setting up a music studio in the store, and becoming our game buyer. He moved on to piano tuning, and teaching, and though it took another decade, that music director job at the church finally opened up in 2021!
Hadley (May 2010-2012) and Natalie (spring-fall 2013) were also young ladies from church. Both were hired to package and ship books, and both, again, grew beyond that role. Hadley, who had taken the first five levels of the Veritas Omnibus courses, wrote the reviews for those books, and helped us assemble bundles for all the semester packs. She also wrote reviews for a bunch of picture books. Natalie wasn't here that long, as she was eager to head off to college, but because she had an interest in classic literature, we had her do much of the leg work for the first twelve Classics Comparison pages, researching translations, typing out passages, and coming up with helpful online links. It was certainly a collaborative effort, but her contributions were considerable! (These pages remain one of my passion projects and will continue into the future.) Both Hadley and Natalie are now married and raising kids.
Although Amanda handled most of our early banner design, by 2013, she was busy enough with four little kids that it was impossible for her to keep up with the number we needed done, and was resisting doing them at all. I realized then I was pushing her too hard (I realize now that I should have found other help well before that point!). So we hired Nathan Furumasu as our graphics designer. I never got to know Nathan well, but he was already a friend of Caleb's, and they loved sharing that back room, which served as used book buying and processing space. He knocked out several hundred banners before moving on in late 2014.
Lauren Shearer grew up in our church. I asked her on her graduation day in 2013 what she was planning next and, learning she wasn't planning on leaving for college in the fall, offered her a job doing the never-ending shelving job. She helped with customer service, and also became an important reviewer on the site, especially for the periods Caleb wasn't there, and is responsible for the excellent reviews of the Caldecott Medalists. During her tenure, we launched the Outside of a Dog Summer Reading Program, and she became the main person in charge of keeping it organized for the four years we did it. (This was one of the best things we ever did, and while it has now had a long hiatus, I don't think it's gone for good! More on this in chapter 10.) She has since spent a great deal of time in Ukraine and has a huge heart for the people there; she currently works as a registrar for the fledgling seminary Reformation Bible Institute (RBI).
Between 2010-14, this staff was making so much progress on my goals for the store that I had resolved to keep it up until we'd "finished" the website (though I had to admit it would never be completely done), even at a sacrifice to my family's welfare. I was working 60-70 hours a week for a lot of this time and not bringing that much income home. I didn't consider this acceptable long-term, but thought we could live with it for 3-4 years. I think Amanda (fairly) began to believe I was a workaholic, and that she would always be playing second fiddle to the store, so looking back, this was a serious problem...
Chapter 8: The Girl Squad, One More Expansion & the Sabbatical
As the guys left to pursue their goals or take better paying jobs, the positions opened up and interestingly, we hired pretty much all women this time around. Lauren took on a more administrative role, Rhiannon took over as book buyer, Emily as graphics designer, and Maddie as shipping manager. (Joseph was still around, not really as an employee, but "renting" his music studio by managing our growing game section.)
Though she didn't go to our church, I had watched Rhiannon grow up. Her family had been coming to Exodus for years, and her mother Allison was one of the "eighteen" I mentioned earlier. Allison was a book collector herself and had been one of our book scouts, scouring thrift stores, garage and estate sales for years. After Caleb left in December 2014, we hired Rhiannon early the next year. She already knew a lot about literature, so the main thing I needed to do with her was teach her about the mistakes Caleb and I had made together. Rhiannon was sharp, hard-working, and very friendly, which made her imminently accessible to our mostly female clientele (Caleb had a reputation for being surly). She consented to "model" for photos when we did our last brochure and video.
When I left on the sabbatical, Rhiannon took over as general manager, which she handled admirably until leaving early in 2017 to marry Adam Hayes. She is now raising two adorable kids.
When Emily's mom came into the store, Nathan had just left. She mentioned she had a daughter looking for work and asked if we had any positions open. All we had, we told her, was an opening for a graphic designer. We were both in luck! Emily was a whiz with Photoshop and incredible at composing images for the site. Though we still had hundreds more to create, she knocked them out in just a little over a year and also worked on creating a bunch of marketing images for the main carousel and Pinterest. She had completed what we'd hired her for, but I was reluctant to let her go, so she began to do other tasks around the store, learning about customer service and book buying from Rhiannon.
Maddie, Lauren's sister, started in early 2014 and worked for a while as shipping manager. Very capable, but mostly quiet (while working, at least!), she did various other tasks, and was quite helpful as we expanded into the third room in 2014. She went part time in 2016, beginning to work elsewhere as a Teacher's aid.
*****Wait, you say. You told us yesterday the store was struggling, and you EXPANDED AGAIN? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???*****
Well, I didn't know how bad it was yet! Sales had increased year over year, and that didn't peak until the summer of 2014. When the building was bought by a new owner, he was a little more reasonable about rent than the previous owner had been. Though he wouldn't reduce the amount, he did gave us the option to expand into the third large room for a very small increase. We did this in the fall of 2014, laying new floors, painting, and getting shelving to make very lovely spaces for Christian books, picture books, classic literature, and for classes and game nights! We had reached the summit of my goals. I was so thrilled!
But 2015 was the first year we had ever experienced a decline in sales. 2016 was worse. The owner of the building asked us to sign a new 5 year lease, and I knew it wasn't feasible, so we asked to take on just one more year. He was willing to do it that time, but told us we'd need to re-up for at least three more years the next fall if we wanted to stay. Amanda and I were having more significant marriage troubles by then, and the finances were adding stress that wasn't helping at all! We announced to the public that we were planning to move.
Trying to keep the trained staff we had, yet reduce expenses, I decided to minimize my wages, take a six month sabbatical and work for Home Depot. But nothing went according to my plans (God was directing, not me!). By the end of that period, Amanda and I had separated, Rhiannon was gone, and I came back to store in March of 2017 a spiritual, emotional, and mental wreck.
Chapter 9: Death & Resurrection
2017 was supposed to be a big year. We needed to find a new location, do any needed remodeling, pack, and move in October, but instead I was facing divorce, depressed, not able to handle anything like that load. Caleb was back, working like a madman to clearance books before the move, and Lauren, Emily and Maddie were here, but the store's morale was quite low. I didn't have the funds to both move and settle with Amanda. After some discussion, we decided in June to try a GoFundMe campaign to raise the needed money, but then I learned from the lawyer that any money donated would have to be split equally. That cinched it: I couldn't ask all of you to fund a divorce, and I didn't have any other ideas as to how to keep the store open. We announced early in August that instead of moving, we were closing.
Pressing the button to send that newsletter was one of the hardest things I've ever done. But it was most definitely a God moment. I prayed as I sent it, "God, I'm letting go of control. Do with the store what you will." Once the newsletter had been sent, I felt more peace than I'd had in a very long time.
The staff didn't stick around for the end. By the end of August, they were all gone. It was back to just me, facing a monumental task, with no idea how to pull it off. That was when a number of people came out of nowhere.
The first I recognize was Heather Hellweg. When she came in and learned what was going on, she said simply, "You can't close!" I don't know what happened afterward on their end, but she and her husband were influential in the coming months. Before Exodus was even gone, the gears had begun turning for its resurrection.
We didn't know that though, and had to proceed with the plans to close. Misty and Meg Stepper, previously customers I barely even knew by name, came and volunteered to work full time until the closure was complete (two full months!). They went further than that, praying for me, encouraging me, feeding me. I was in a dark place, but their joy and unselfishness was contagious, and I firmly believe that their presence literally saved my life. Along with Dustin, Misty's husband, they are now among my dearest friends.
While we were focusing on the closure, three families were building the foundations for a reboot. I had a brief meeting with James Dirksen, who was organizing a company to purchase the store, and would become its CEO. Gabe Winslow (older brother of Jonathan), with his wife Mandy, was financing the reboot, and Mark (one of those early NCCA students) and Heather Hellweg were planning the branding overhaul.
September and October were crazy. We sold everything we could: books, shelving, furniture, appliances. We closed on October 20, and during the next ten days, we did a final inventory with volunteers, then started boxing everything left to put into storage. We were out of the building by November 2, and, now a single Dad, I took my kids on a two week vacation to California to de-stress and unwind. By this time, we knew the store would be coming back, but it hadn't been made official yet, so we couldn't announce it to the world.
This changed on November 22, when I signed papers to sell the company. Plans could officially begin for a spring 2018 reopening!
Other than one meeting in December, I was not involved in the development of Exodus BookSTORES, LLC. The new owners planned its format—a central warehouse with several small satellite stores in the area. I was hired as a consultant. The idea, as I understand it, was that I would be working on creating video product reviews and would be training others to offer consulting services like Exodus has always done. They hoped to grow it far beyond anything I'd ever imagined and were looking for investors.
Ryan Sorensen was hired to manage building out the warehouse and first storefront, and did a great job of that. Several of the Dirksen kids spent hours building shelving and more. Misty officially became an employee and Emily Wright was rehired as used book buyer.
We opened the warehouse in April and the new storefront (back at original location next to Basic Skills in OC!) on June 14. Both spaces exuded a modern and minimalist aesthetic: they were bright, cheerful, clean; there were beautiful paintings on the walls, matching couches, rugs on the floor, and plants. But (imho) there weren't enough books on the shelves.
Unfortunately, the relaunch never really took off; sales were flat, and no investors were found. For all the big dreams, within six months, the new owners threw in the towel. By agreement, I was carrying the contract, so when they couldn't pay, it reverted back to me. From October to February 2019, when I officially resumed ownership, we worked to take apart everything we had labored so hard to build less than a year earlier. We abandoned the warehouse, squeezing everything we could into the store and taking the rest to my house, where it took over two bedrooms, my office, and dining room! (My beloved counter had nowhere to go and stayed with the folks who assumed the lease there.)
I feel bad about the time spent by the Dirksens and Hellwegs, worse about the money the Winslows lost in relaunching the store. But I am amazed by their graciousness throughout, and extremely thankful for their sacrifices. Without them, we wouldn't be celebrating this anniversary!
Chapter 10: COVID, Present & Future
The year 2019 felt more normal on one level, but home life was a bit crazy. Having all those books in the house was overwhelming, and everyday I would bring orders home from the shop, then package and ship from my house. We were making it happen, but it was not ideal!
I had a personal goal to create a Classics Comparison page without a larger staff, and Emily and I compiled a page for Robinson Crusoe (/robinson-crusoe/8690/) just in time for its 300th anniversary in April. (My favorite version in print is the first prize today!)
The building came under new management during this period, and Curt Bumcrot was diagnosed with AL Amyloidosis. As a result of this, Basic Skills closed NCCA completely, and those classrooms became available in October. We were back to cutting doorways through walls. (This was done by Emily's grandpa.) Over the next two months, I happily moved most of the books back *out* of my house. In January 2020, the Bumcrots moved their offices home, making that space available too, which allowed us to move the rest.
Then COVID hit.
I was never that worried about the virus, but like everyone else took it seriously for the first few weeks of "slow the curve." Emily stopped coming into the office, at first working a few hours a week from home, then decided to go on unemployment. We closed the store to foot traffic, relying on the website for orders and offering a window for order pickup from 10am-2pm weekdays. With schools, libraries, and other bookstores closed, those orders were something else! I was only working 20 hours a week, and our sales were significantly better than the previous two years had been!
Because no one was bringing used books to sell, the shelves were emptying rapidly and I began using some of my free time to search for other sources of inspiration for new titles. We settled on the Redeemed Reader blog, the FB group Reshelving Alexandria, and the Rabbit Room, revisited Read-Aloud Revival, and founded two new FB groups to discuss the Newbery and Caldecott books. (While not terribly busy, these are currently active: https://www.facebook.com/groups/294149631576049 & https://www.facebook.com/groups/1592345504277489 )
As the year progressed, I became convinced that the Oregon mandates were more about political control than health, so I began to quietly (though publicly) buck them. Though the doors were locked to the public, we took the position: "every customer is a friend; come on in for a social gathering, masks optional!" Emily returned for a short time, but was not comfortable with that stance. She left in July to take a job that could both pay better and allowed her to work from home (and she married Paden in October).
We posted a job opening. Julie Harth, who handles store / shelf maintenance, and does most of the customer service when I'm unavailable, asked about the position, but couldn't work full-time. We announced the job on the Rabbit Room "chinwag," and Rachel Oreskovich responded. We hired her to take over as book buyer. We've had a series of others handle shipping, including Meg and Misty, who returned for a short time (and Dustin came and reinstalled our signs). All of them left our employ–and the state! The lockdowns forced Dustin Stepper to find work on the East Coast, but before she left to join him, Misty set up a series of bulletin boards full of great info for local home school families. Amy Coy has joined us most recently.
Many other friends and customers have also left Oregon during the last two years. With so many people moving, we have had a bigger influx of vintage books and donations than we've seen in a long time, and in August we yet again took over another room to handle that. Though I can currently only work 25-30 hours a week, we are growing again, and I am supremely thankful for God's provision.
That brings us essentially to the present. Half of my time, I love spending my days with five amazing kids. We are home schooling, and the kids are learning their subjects with good grace, helping me cook and keep a household [somewhat] in order. We have lots of fun discussions about culture & politics, faith and religion. They spend many of their hours reading, we'll go on the occasional adventure, and we watch a lot of movies together. I hope that they'll remember their childhood fondly!
The other half is spent working on Exodus projects, which have become more a mix of personal and store than ever before. While trying to keep our curriculum selection strong, we've been putting most of our focus into the literature. Little by little, we've been adding new titles and reactivating vintage books on the site, and my hope is that it's more of a literary tool than it has ever been.
We've continued to work on Classics Comparisons, and we're nearly finished with pages for Augustine's Confessions (/st-augustines-confessions/8706/) and Wind in the Willows (/wind-in-the-willows/8720/ - a version of this is a bonus prize today!). Outside of a Dog has become an Instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/outsideofadogbooks/), and I'm working to eventually publish an expanded 2nd edition of our recommended reading booklist. (That will finally use the painting we originally commissioned for the summer reading program!)
For the immediate future, we are planning on a front room rearrangement that will move used book buying and processing to our office and provide more space for fiction. We are trying to make this location work, and have no plans to move from here anytime soon! There is some discussion of beginning to publish, but we'll see where that goes!
To conclude, we want to publicly thank all of you for your support and patronage these many years. And more importantly, we thank God for His grace and mercy, and for His sovereignty in weaving the impossible strands of this story into something pretty incredible! We know He's not done yet! Soli deo Gloria!