Three more years ticked by before the next mountain appeared on the horizon. The council had decided that if it couldn't demolish the building (and the one next door) then it would sell it off. We were summoned to the council one day to a meeting with an official whose attitude was "you've had a good run for your money and its time to move on. You won't be able to afford it anyway" and proceeded to quote ridiculous figures at us. So we prayed. We felt quite attached to the building by now despite the holes in the roof and the dilapidated state of the fabric and so we prayed that God would have the upper hand. So you won't be surprised to hear that we then heard that the official had moved on and a much friendlier person was now handling the case. A survey was carried out and a valuation made and eventually in April 1987 a letter came offering us the freehold of the building. It was too good an opportunity to pass by.
I am convinced that God gives a gift of faith to be exercised on those occasions when we would be unable to cope on our own. And this was one of those occasions. Despite the enormous sum being asked, and the fact that we had only a few pounds in the bank for working capital, we all felt strongly that it was right to go ahead and submit our offer, which was accepted. By the time we had to pay the deposit we had enough gifts come in to the shop to pay it and when the balance was due it was all paid. However our faith didn't stop there. We strongly felt that if God had given us the freehold then we had to renovate the building from its run down state. So in faith we booked an architect to draw up some plans and found a builder to carry them out. We also felt that the time was right to extend the property and use the extra space to open a small coffee shop.
God met our needs in a most extraordinary way. Along with the gifts that were given to the shop we were suddenly offered a huge private loan totally out of the blue. We have never ceased to be amazed at the wonderful ways that God encourages His people to be part of His plans. The loan became the basis by which the shop could not only be repaired and restored but by which it survived though the harsh financial recession of the early nineties.
The Trust Is Formed
The gifts that were given to the shop during this time made it possible to set up the Maranatha Christian Bookshop Trust, a charitable trust that has as its aims the promotion of Christian Literature in the locality. The Trust now part owns the building ensuring that it will always be used for the Christian book ministry.
The coffee shop that was opened was called Martha's and it had come as a fulfillment of the original vision of the two couples. We had wanted a place of peace and quiet away from the bustle of the town where people could have a good meal and relax in a Christian atmosphere. It was also hoped that those running the coffee shop would have time to get alongside the customers and be a listening ear. However that wasn't' quite how it turned out. Right from the start we soon built up a regular clientele who came to enjoy the wholesome cooking and freshly baked cakes. We had envisaged that supporters in the local churches would be able to bake pies and cakes and bring them in but the tightened health regulations prevented that and we ended up doing all the cooking ourselves as well as buying from catering companies. The cheesecakes and bread and butter puddings soon gained a good reputation. We soon discovered however that staffing that part of the shop was going to put a drain on all our resources. On a Saturday we would have 4 people working flat out in the coffee shop and 2 in the rest of the shop and yet the shop accounted for 90% of the sales. During the rest of the week we had one full time cook (Dorell), Jan and a team of volunteers. People still remember Bill and Chrystl's mouth-watering scones, and Bob's enthusiasm in serving.
The coffee shop was also a place for romance with at least one couple meeting there and ending up getting married. During this time it became a meeting place for one of the local churches when they did outreach work on a Saturday. It wouldn't be out of place on a Saturday to have 24 people seated for meals downstairs and about 16 people praying and praising in the room upstairs after a successful outreach session. Guitars and visual aids such as a pair of dumbbells would be piled up in the hall and the sounds of laughter filled the place. If we could have had a couple more tables then it would have been more viable as we often would turn people away on day and be half empty the next.
Time To Expand
By now it was 1989 and the shop was growing from strength to strength. About two years earlier the alleyway between the shop and the bakers had been filled in and turned into a lock up shop by a Travel Agent. This shop was now empty and we felt strongly that if the shop was going to grow any further then this was an obvious choice for expansion. The negotiations were fraught with problems but we finally were able to negotiate the lease and set about rebuilding it. The original building had not followed planning regulations and so we had to drill out the concrete floor and lower it to street level as well as rebuild the shop front retaining the impression that there was an alleyway there at one time. It was a great day when the wall was drilled through and the 'two became one'.
During the first week of work Olive had a serious car accident on the way to Shropshire badly damaging her neck. We really felt under attack and spent much time in prayer before the project was finished. The extension was opened in October 1990 and added a further 200 square feet to the shop floor making the whole space unrecognisable compared with the space we had back in 1976.
It wasn't that much later when Britain entered into a long period of recession and after a few months we began to experience a drop in sales. We had been growing through the recession at the end of the 1970's but this time we felt its effects and bit by bit had to review all our activities. It was also at this time that the coffee shop was costing us more than it was taking in income and on some days Jan had to run it by herself. We were all getting worn out and so reluctantly we made the decision that we would have to close the coffee shop and convert two of the tables that remained into a self-service area for refreshments. Sadly we had to bid farewell to a number of regulars but we all felt so worn out that it was the only sensible thing to do.
It was a difficult period in the Shop's history because instead of responding to growth and a greater demand for our stock we were finding that it was tough going and getting harder all the time. The only consolation was that we weren't alone but conversations with other shopkeepers and especially other Christian booksellers told the same story. However, it was also at this time that we had a number of great encouragements. Several financial gifts were made to the shop just at those times when they were needed most. Even more of a blessing was that the providers of the loan that was keeping the shop going kept writing off chunks of it even though we were unable to make any repayments. God never promises to wrap us in cotton wool but He does promise to uphold us when we walk though difficult times and He was doing just that.
Continue on to read part four.