The first Mennonite bookstore in America was probably the one operated by the Mennonite Publishing Company at Elkhart, Indiana, possibly established as early as 1867 by John F. Funk when he moved his printing business from Chicago to Elkhart. It was sold to James A. Bell in 1908, but continued as a book and stationery store at the same location uninterruptedly to the 1950s.
The Western Publishing Co., Halstead, Kansas, with David Goerz as manager, started a bookstore in Halstead in 1876; in 1880 it was taken over by Goerz, who also established a branch in Newton, Kansas.
In 1882 Joel and B. F. Welty, two members of the First Mennonite Church at Berne, Indiana, established a bookstore in the town of Berne. Two years later when the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America met at Berne, its Publication Board took over the Welty store, thus making it the first official Mennonite bookstore in America. By 1887 the establishment had sold over 11,000 volumes. In time it came to be known as the Mennonite Book Concern, and later the Mennonite Book Store. Two additional official bookstores served the General Conference Mennonite Church. In 1946 the Mennonite Book Store was established in Newton, Kansas. In 1947 the Mennonite Book Store was opened in Rosthern, Saskatchewan. For several years previously a bookstore in Rosthern had operated under the auspices of the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization. The total investment in the three stores amounted to $30,000 in 1950.
John W. Weaver began a bookselling business in 1895 at Spring Grove, Pennsylvania. This may be considered the beginning of a service around which the later official bookstores of the Mennonite Church (MC) were built. About this time John W. Weaver was appointed secretary-treasurer of the Mennonite Book and Tract Society, which in 1908 was absorbed by the Mennonite Publishing House, locating its headquarters in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. Weaver continued his growing book business personally until 1927, when the store, which then included a branch in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was purchased by the Mennonite Publishing House. In 1937 the Golden Rule Book Store in Kitchener, Ontario, was purchased by the House, and in 1939 the Graybill Book Store in Souderton, Pennsylvania, likewise. In 1942 the Gospel Book Store was established by the House in Goshen, Indiana. At Scottdale, a bookstore was a part of the House activities since the early days of the establishment. In each instance these stores were profitable for many years and rendered an important service in their respective communities. The largest of these stores was the one in Lancaster, which had an inventory of approximately $55,000 in the early 1950s. The Golden Rule Book Store had an inventory of $31,000 and the Gospel Book Store had a stock of $27,000 in 1950. In 1963 the stores operated by the Mennonite Publishing House all began to use the name Provident Bookstore. During the increase of bookstore chains in the 1980s and later, profit margins suffered and some of the stores were closed. After the integration of the the Mennonite Church (MC) and the General Conference Mennonite Church into Mennonite Church and a financial crisis at the Mennonite Publishing House was encountered, all the stores were closed or sold; the last in 2006.
The Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, Hillsboro, Kansas, operated a book business after it acquired the D. E. Harder bookstore in 1920, and the Christian Press Book Store, Winnipeg, Manitoba, served the Mennonite Brethren in Canada.
No other branches of the church have official bookstores in the 1950s.
There were, however, a number of private bookstores serving the major Mennonite and Amish communities. The major private enterprise serving the United Missionary Church was the Leonard Book Store, Owen Sound, Ontario. The Old Order Amish constituency was served by the Benjamin Esh Book Store, Ronks, Pennsylvania; the L. A. Miller store, Arthur, Illinois; and the J. A. Raber store, Baltic, Ohio. Mennonite Brethren private bookstores included the Kroeker Book Store, later the Eitzen Book and Gift Shop, Mountain Lake, Minnesota; and the Suderman bookstore in Reedley, California. D. W. Friesen and Son of Altona, Manitoba, for many decades served a large Canadian constituency. The Evangel Book Shop, Steinbach, Manitoba, also served Manitoba Mennonites. In western Canada the Christian Book Store was opened near Abbotsford, British Columbia, in 1946. The Klassen Book and Variety Store, Yarrow, British Columbia, was discontinued in 1951 because of the floods that swept through the Mennonite settlements of the area. The Herald Book Store, Newton, Kansas, an outgrowth of the Beehive Book Store which was operated by the Krehbiel brothers, has served a large Mennonite constituency for many years. The Mennonite colleges all operated bookstores for the student-faculty community. Other smaller book concerns operated by Mennonites were scattered throughout various Mennonite communities in the United States, such as in Orrville, Ohio; Gretna, Steinbach, and Winkler, Manitoba; Peoria, Illinois; Henderson, Nebraska, and Freeman, South Dakota.
Most of the American Mennonite bookstores operated primarily as religious bookstores, Bible houses, and stationery stores. A few emphasized Mennonite publications, but the paucity of Mennonite books usually resulted in the display and promotion of a large amount of non-Mennonite literature. Thus the bookstores often became significant channels for the promotion of types of theology and piety which were not always congenial to the traditional historic Mennonite type.
In the Netherlands there have never been special Mennonite bookstores or publishing houses, such as in America. From the oldest times Mennonite authors had their books printed and published by non-Mennonites or Mennonites alike. Exceptions were the set of booklets for the Mennonites in the diaspora, the Geschriftjes voor de Doopsgezinden in de Verstrooiing, which were published by a special committee and more recently certain booklets published by the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit. That the Mennonites in the Netherlands have not had a publishing house of their own is due to the fact that they lived in closer relationship with non-Mennonites and the culture of their country in general, than most of the Mennonites in other countries. There have, however, in the past been some well-known Dutch Mennonite printers and publishers, although they always dealt in non-Mennonite publications also. In the 16th century we find first at Emden, later on in Amsterdam, Nicolaes Biestkens, who printed, in addition to the Biestkens-Bible, at least one edition of the first martyr-book, the Offer des Heeren, and also some old hymn-books. Mennonite printers and publishers were numerous in the Netherlands during the 17th century. For example, in Amsterdam: J. A. Calom, Jan Theunisz, and particularly Jan Rieuwertsz, who published many books written by Mennonites and Collegiants, and whose bookshop was a meeting place of those Mennonites who were interested in books. In Haarlem were found H. P. van Wesbusch and Th. Fonteyn; in Hoorn, Zacharias Cornelisz and Iz. Willemsz; at de Rijp, Claes Jacobsz, etc. Today the widely known Dutch publishing houses of Tjeenk Willink at Haarlem, and de Bussy at Amsterdam, are of Mennonite background.
Among the Mennonites of Russia the following bookstores served their constituencies during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries: Chortitza Colony, the three firms of Heese and Epp, David Epp, and Born at Chortitza, and the firm of D. P. Isaac at Schönwiese; Molotschna Colony, the firm of "Raduga" at Halbstadt, the firms Töws, Penner, and Isaak Fast at Gnadenfeld, Helen A. Janzen at Tiege, and Jacob Martens at Tiegenhagen; elsewhere, D. J. Warkentin at Memrik, A. P. Friesen at Davlekanovo, and others.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 387-388. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: van der Zijpp, Nanne and Melvin Gingerich. "Bookstores, Mennonite." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 25 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B6700.html.
APA style: van der Zijpp, Nanne and Melvin Gingerich. (1953). Bookstores, Mennonite. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B6700.html.