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Ventura County Religion

Religious Stores Expand Horizon for Faithful

Worship: There are several places where the devout can buy gifts and articles to enhance their own spiritual lives.

May 09, 1998|COLL METCALFE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Packed along the shelves at the Valley Book and Bible in Simi Valley are rows upon rows of Bibles in every imaginable size, shape and color.

Some are bound in shiny black leather and embossed with Gothic gold script. Others are laminated with dramatic cover illustrations depicting some of the text's more important moments. And a few are no larger than a matchbox, making it easier to stow one away in a pocket for everyday reference.

Catering to the spiritual needs of the devout, Valley Book and Bible is but one of many religious stores doing a brisk trade with Ventura County's faithful.

Located on Cochran Street, the store is one of six in a chain throughout Southern California selling everything from spiritual texts to music to animated videos to T-shirts emblazoned with biblical anecdotes.

"I guess you could say we're kind of like the Target for the Christian community," said Valley Book and Bible's vice president, David Wilkie. "We don't specialize in a certain kind of merchandise, but try to offer everything from gifts to church supplies."

Established in 1952 in a small store in Van Nuys, the chain has grown over the years into one of the largest retailers of Christian sundries.

Although Bibles have traditionally been the hottest seller over those 46 years, sales of other items, such as inspirational Christian texts, communion supplies, artwork, personal vestments and Sunday school books have risen dramatically.

"In addition to churches that use the stores to meet their everyday needs, we get a lot of people coming in who are looking for answers," Wilkie said. "They'll stop in and pick up something that speaks to them."

For Michelle Velasquez, though, it was the racks of Mother's Day cards that drew her attention.

"Usually cards are so corny, but these are really different," the 28-year-old Newbury Park resident said. "They say a lot more than the usual ones . . .. They're almost more personal."

Though most churches depend on specialized denominational suppliers to provide such items as altars, candelabra, robes and other vestments, the county's handful of Christian supply stores have been used to outfit churches with texts to help educate their congregations.

However, Jane Rudd, one of the owners of Christian Family Supplies in Camarillo and Oxnard, said that in addition to Bibles, text, music and other items, she can supply everything from choir robes to pews and even a steeple--an item one doesn't see much anymore in Ventura County, she said.

"I kind of liken us to a department store," she said. "There are a lot of things we have for sale here that you don't see when you walk through the door."

As at other stores, Rudd said her customers vary from churches to individuals just looking for spiritual guidance.

"There's no one set kind of person that comes in here," she said. "There's really all sorts . . .. We get the truly devout, families and people looking for a gift for a religious friend."

Though the county has just a handful of religious retailers, all report that business has been particularly good--so good that it has allowed some to expand their selections and number of locations.

"There's always a need for these kinds of stores, because at heart, we are a very spiritual people," Wilkie said. "That's one of the reasons we've been in business so long."

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