LDS mission store finds a niche

The Emporium has much more than just paraphernalia for the two-year calling of devoted faithful

Someone keeps turning the rack of tiny state flags before Penni Crowther can snag North Carolina, where her daughter is serving an LDS mission.

“It helps me keep track of my kids,” the Murray mother says while she waits at one of the most popular attractions at the Missionary Emporium.

“I came here when my older son went on his [LDS] mission and I wanted [a matching flag] for my daughter,” Crowther says. “The places and people they serve now have a place in my heart, too.”

With a name like Missionary Emporium, the West Jordan store at 7110 S. Redwood Road might give the impression its primary purpose is to please LDS missionaries. But owner Morgen Peck says the store’s mission is actually aimed at the people who are feeling a little left behind.

“We get very few missionaries through here,” he says. “Most of our customers are families and girlfriends who wait” for their missionaries to come home.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be the store’s busiest days. Those are the days that families drive to Provo to deliver their missionary to the LDS Church’s Missionary Training Center.

“We’ve seen our share of people who come in here with red eyes,” Peck says. “I like the idea we help them find just the right thing that will mean something to them or to the missionary.”

Not only that, but those tiny flags make great visual aids for school projects. And LDS customers can likely find lesson help for their Sunday school sermon or the latest book by LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley.

On its more extravagant side, the store is one of the few places you can find a pewter chess set featuring all the famous characters of the Book of Mormon, the church’s signature scripture.

“We’re not just a missionary store,” Peck says. “The countdown calendars, flags, stickers, journals and other missionary stuff is probably 20 percent of our inventory, and the other 80 percent is just like any other LDS bookstore.”

It’s a niche that has helped the store survive in the crowded market of LDS paraphernalia.

In addition to church-owned Deseret Book and Seagull Book, a chain of alternative LDS bookstores owned by Covenant Communications Inc., there are more than 200 independent LDS bookstores in operation.

“There’s just not many of them in Utah,” says Peck, who is the current president of the LDS Booksellers Association. Members of the group, which meets annually in Salt Lake City, come from as far away as Australia and as nearby as Roy.

Peck says without the missionary angle, his stores might not have pulled through a recent economic downturn, during which he had to close two of his three outlets. The others were located in Bountiful and Orem.

“The Jordan store was the central location, and it doesn’t hurt that it is just a few miles from my home,” Peck says.

Peck’s parents bought the franchise while he was on his LDS mission in California during the mid-1980s. After his mission, he started working there in 1988 and bought the chain several years ago.

If there is an altruistic reason for Peck’s wanting to run the store, it is because it’s a family business, not a calling from God. His wife, sister, brother-in-law and several of their children have all worked there over the years.

“Things are starting to turn around,” he says.

Meanwhile, he is taking courses to become a real estate agent as a backup career.

But it’s obvious he loves his job as he talks about some of the missionary-specific items he has helped develop.

“The 25-month calendars and waiting charts in the shape of the [LDS Church’s Salt Lake] Temple are our idea,” he says. “They are conversation pieces in people’s homes and that’s kind of fun to know.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday January 5, 2007.
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