Lamb’s Well in Centerville to close as LifeWay moves in

Sun News correspondentSeptember 11, 2013 

Stan and Carla Cook are stepping away from The Lamb’s Well Christian Bookstore after 11 years of business.

MICHAEL W. PANNELL — Special to The Sun News

CENTERVILLE -- On Saturday, The Lamb’s Well Christian Bookstore will close its doors after 11 years of business -- and ministry.

A LifeWay Christian store plans to open Sept. 21 in its place.

Most of the faces in the new LifeWay store will be familiar ones, people who have served customers for years at Lamb’s Well. Lamb’s Well gift cards will be good at the new LifeWay, and ongoing church accounts will be in good standing.

“It’s an answer to prayer for us,” said Stan Cook, owner and operator of Lamb’s Well, along with wife, Carla.

“Our prayer was always that the Lord would provide a way for us to successfully run the Lamb’s Well, and if the time came that it wasn’t his will for us to do that, then he would provide someone who could successfully run it and run it as we did, keeping people and ministry at the forefront. We believe he’s answered that prayer.”

When the Cooks bought the store in 2002, it was called the Olive Branch and was an offshoot of a Dublin store. Stan Cook left his job in banking to run it while Carla Cook, a certified public accountant, remained controller at an area medical practice.

Both committed Christians, the two wanted to operate the business on clear Biblical principles but said they saw the endeavor as only that: a business.

For both of them, that outlook quickly changed.

“Within the first week, a lady walked up to me and began talking about her daughter who had leukemia,” Stan Cook said. “People kept talking to us about their needs. We pointed them to books, but we saw there was a lot more to it. We listened. We prayed. We cared. Sometimes, we helped by just giving them all the time they needed to walk around the store and be to themselves.”

Carla Cook said employees were instructed that the important thing was to be helpful and show love. She said even the store’s name reflected the desire that it be a place people could come be refreshed.

The Cooks said they wanted it to be a place people could encounter Christ. People who were Christian and those who weren’t. Even those at odds with Christianity.

“We always told our staff we were here to serve, not to debate,” Stan Cook said. “There are certain basic truths, and there are a lot of opinions and beliefs surrounding them. Our job here hasn’t been to debate or convince but to serve. We always wanted to match books with needs.”

Stan Cook eventually returned to banking, and Carla Cook left her job to run the store. Along the way they found employees like Dave and Sue Harris, whom they depended on and who, the Cooks said, plan to remain at LifeWay.

They also regularly updated their business model to changing times, such as fewer music CDs due to online sources but growing their burnable, digital accompaniment tracks. He said the store always found a way.

While sales have remained good and customers loyal, Stan Cook said what has become a problem for independent stores like Lamb’s Well has been sales margins when competing with gigantic vendors like amazon.com.

He said a larger company, like LifeWay, has buying power Lamb’s Well doesn’t.

The Cooks said within two weeks of praying for a new way forward for their store, they got a call from LifeWay.

“As we compared philosophy on running the store, we were very comfortable,” Stan Cook said. “We share many things, including that people and ministry are priority but that good business practices are vital. We weren’t just looking for someone to buy the store and take it off our hands. We wanted someone that had the expertise and ability to successfully keep the store going as well as run it with the same priorities we held. We’re happy that’s happening.”

Carla Cook said she will take time off before seeking new work as a CPA, Stan Cook will remain at his banking job. Though they said tears are being shed, they’re full of faith the business will continue in good shape -- along with the ministry.

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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