On a small farm in Stillwater, a local business attracts customers from around the world. Loome Theological Booksellers specializes in rare religious texts, primarily relating to Christianity.
“The older the better,” owner Chris Hagen says. “We don’t carry current bestsellers. That’s not the kind of bookstore we are.”
The unique assortment includes ancient philosophy, religious poetry, biographies on influential Christians, and other selections that cater to scholars, monks, pastors, professors and anyone looking to explore deeper into one of the leading world religions.
Loome Theological Booksellers was founded by Thomas Michael Loome. While studying Catholic theology in Europe during the late 1960s, he noticed the poor treatment of rare theological literature that he would come across in his travels. During this time, Loome began a personal collection of secondhand books that would become a full-time operation in 1983. After serving as a professor at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, he brought his business to Stillwater. For years, he ran the bookstore out of the Old Swedish Church, until his retirement in 2008.
In 2012, after Hagen took ownership, the store moved to its current location: a farm where goats and chickens can be found running around outside. Entering the door, your eyes are met with natural light and floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with books of every style. Some are leather-bound, others are paperback, but all meet the precise criteria Hagen uses when evaluating whether to buy a new addition or not. Scarcity and relevance are at the top of his list, usually selecting hard-to-find texts that are written for a specific audience.
“It might be something scholarly or about an obscure subject that only interests 10 people in the world. Luckily, with the Internet, I can find those 10 people,” Hagen says.
The store regularly makes sales through Amazon, allowing him to reach international customers who aren’t able to make a trip in person. Though technology has been an asset for the business, when it comes to learning from the Internet versus books, Hagen believes the latter has a unique capacity that sets it apart.
“Books impart wisdom, whereas the Internet imparts information,” Hagen says. “To really learn about a subject, you need the depth and momentum created through books.”
When customers arrive at the store, he encourages them to look around, take any book off the shelf and see what might interest them. He calls this a “seeker-led” experience, where his customers can feel comfortable exploring without pressure.
“That’s what makes us different from a church,” Hagen says. “Our store has a spiritual basis, but nobody here is going to tell you what to think or believe. These books are for anyone who is fascinated by history or wants to grow spiritually.”
Theological texts are distinct in their exploration of universal questions dealing with existence and spirituality. Hagen believes these questions are important yet not often reflected upon. For many individuals witnessing the evolution of western culture, spirituality can seem neglected in daily life, according to Hagen. Many of his customers come in looking for books on new forms of prayer or to explore their own history and backgrounds, often leaving with new discoveries they hadn’t previously known about. One of the most popular components of the store is an annex that’s located towards the back. It’s piled with an assortment of books, all of them free.
“That’s always exciting for customers. There’s something for everyone back there,” Hagen says. “You never know what treasures you’ll find.”