A Christian bookstore and gift shop in downtown New Baltimore doesn't follow your average business model.
In fact, ECCO Family Bookstore is practically writing history on how to sustain a faith-based storefront owned and operated solely by dedicated volunteers. Patch catches up with a Volunteer Manager Marianne Erdman to learn more.
ECCO is not like normal bookstores because it's staffed by volunteers. Can you tell us more about that and who owns/operates the store?
We are not only a nonprofit organization. Every worker is a volunteer, literally no one gets paid. All profits go into operating the store and funding different outreaches and helps in our community. We help senior citizens at New Baltimore Place (bringing meals at Christmas for those who stay home alone, heavy cleaning for those who physically can't, picking up food or items of need for those who can't drive and need something ASAP, moving furniture around, removing furniture/items, moving an individual/couple from one apartment to another), we feed the homeless and offer free haircuts to them through the gracious generosity of Donna's Creative Images, and we offer food from our on-site food pantry to local people in need.) Our food pantry can be visited any time we're open.
At Christmas we try to help as many families as possible with any needs they may have, especially for children. God is unmistakably showing his work through the bookstore. For example, someone may come in and say they need a bed for a child. We take note of it and keep our ears open, but then two days later someone comes in and says, "I have a bed. Does someone need it?"
Another thing that makes us unique is we carry items that other stores don't - handmade items from local artists and books from local authors. We also have items that 100 percent of the profit go directly to ministries that for example, buy mosquito nets to save families from malaria outbreaks in Africa or purchases women out of bondage in Cambodia. (These items are handmade by the actual women who are freed).
No one person owns the bookstore and we all operate it. All the volunteers are of the local community that visit all different churches. We are an eccumenical bookstore.
How long has the bookstore been there?
We opened just before Christmas of 2007; we are in our sixth year. We could not do it without our wonderful, passion-filled volunteers.
What do most customers come in for?
Bibles, books, gifts for special occasions. Some come in just to see what's on our used book wall; we have great prices on these donated items. They help us to continue doing what we do. Others come in to visit our food pantry. Some come in and tell us they strongly feel lead by the Lord to give to our efforts of helping the community. Yet others come in just to talk--to share, to fellowship.
What has your experience been like in downtown New Baltimore?
We love the downtown area. We look forward to the downtown area's growth. An increase in businesses would definitely benefit our ministry. We are fortunate to have wonderful people that run the other businesses downtown.
Are you ever looking for more volunteers? If so, how can someone apply?
We are looking for more volunteers--people who love the Lord and are passionate about helping others. They can apply by calling (586) 725-2022 and leaving their name and telephone number or by sending us a message on Facebook. Volunteers work four or eight-hour shifts during the week, some work every two weeks, some only six hours on a Saturday. We are flexible because we have to be! Our hours of operation are Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. We would love to open on Mondays but currently do not have the staffing.
Are there any new catalogues or products you're anticipating at the store?
We are excited to now carry Sak Saum, a line of handbags, purses, jewelry, scarves and more - all made my women freed from bondage out of Cambodia. They are truly unique and beautiful. With the little funds that we do have, we try to always add something new to our variety of items.
We hold book signings for local authors and CD signings for local Christian musicians. We always welcome new product from local artists/manufacturers on consignment. Any item-- food, used book, baby item, or monetary donations--are tax deductible. Something unique about our food pantry: we give bottles of homemade laundry soap with the recipe for both the soap and fabric softener as a way for people to save money. My family of five uses it and we spend less than $15 per year on laundry soap. Easy and quick to make.
We have an ongoing collection for baby items for Abigayle Ministries, a ministry that helps homeless and needy pregnant women and moms. We in the past have had clothing and food drives for the homeless living in tents and other drives for local outreaches. If any local ministry comes to us and asks if we could collect an item for an outreach, we are always happy to be that drop off collection site. We believe in acting like a big family -one family - the family of God - we want to help in any way we can!
We are also very excited to be hosting our first annual "Discover Our Community" event this summer, date to be determined. This will be an outdoor event to help local businesses and ministries to thrive. We will be inviting local people, businesses, ministries, and Michigan authors to set up a table to promote what they do at no cost to them.
People will be able to meet Chesterfield, New Baltimore, and Fair Haven residents who own businesses/sell items and members of local churches or ministries that are trying to raise funds for a ministry or mission. We'll also have live music, food, fun games/things to do, and free prizes for kids. We are looking for a balloon artist and face painter. The local businesses downtown will also be invited to participate in another capacity. Anyone interested in boosting their business or ministry can call us, facebook us, or email us with their email address to email@example.com.