Greene Center Bookstore opens under new ownership, new name

Posted 1/6/00

“There was this littl…

By Mary Marek

Ever since Monica Miller was in college, she has wanted to own a bookstore.

“There was this little bookstore in Topeka, Kansas, that I spent a lot …

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Greene Center Bookstore opens under new ownership, new name


“There was this littl…

By Mary Marek

Ever since Monica Miller was in college, she has wanted to own a bookstore.

“There was this little bookstore in Topeka, Kansas, that I spent a lot of time in,” she said. “I was intrigued with the idea of owning one like it.”

Like everyone else in Kalona, Monica watched Katie Yoder grow older and more frail and wondered what would happen to her Greene Center Bookstore when she was unable to continue running it. Monica even approached Katie about buying the store, but Katie wasn’t interested in selling.

So, Monica put aside her dream of owning a bookstore.

After Katie died, Monica and her husband Merlin discussed the possibility of buying the business, but feeling uncomfortable about approaching Katie’s family so soon after her death, did nothing about it.

While attending parent-teacher conferences at Iowa Mennonite School last fall, Monica decided to visit with her daughter Martha’s art teacher, Darvin Yoder. In the middle of their conversation, Yoder, who is Katie’s nephew and executor of her estate, leaned across his desk and asked Monica, “How would you like to own a bookstore?”

Thus started Monica’s journey to dream fulfillment.

It hasn’t been a totally bump-free ride. Right after the Millers made their official offer to Yoder, two other people made counter-offers.

Monica said, “I spent many nights praying and crying” because she was afraid one of the other offers would be higher than hers. And, while the people at Freedom Security Bank were willing to work with Monica, she and Merlin had decided on what they felt the business was worth and would not go beyond that price.

Then she got a phone call that changed her life. “Darvin called and said he had decided I should have the store,” Monica said.

Yoder told her the money was secondary. He wanted someone “who would carry on Katie’s vision, mission and dream for the Kalona community” to own the store, and he felt Monica was that someone.

He realized this might not be the smartest way to do business, but “God does not do business the way business is done.”

Back to the bank the Millers went. “The people at FSB have been wonderfully supportive,” Monica said. They helped her apply for a LIFT (Link Incentive For Tomorrow) loan financed by the Iowa State Treasurer’s Office. She qualified for the maximum amount from the program which targets women and minorities in business.

The Millers took possession of the property in December, but Darvin allowed them to open the doors for a two-day clearance sale at Thanksgiving.

Since then, they have completely cleaned it out. The walls were painted, new carpeting was installed and an office was built. Bookcases that blocked the light from the building’s many windows have been moved.

“It’s a family enterprise,” Monica said as she looked around her new business. Paul and Grace Miller, Merlin’s parents, have contributed a great deal of work to the project. The Millers’ children, Matthew, age 16, Martha, 15, Mark 13, and Micah and Megan, 12, have also helped with the work.

Once the store is open, Monica will be there full time. “The kids will fill in and Paul and Grace will help periodically,” she explained. Merlin’s contribution will be as bookkeeper.

While Monica plans to carry many of the same books Katie Yoder sold, and will gladly order items she doesn’t have in stock, there will be other changes in addition to the physical layout of the store.

“Look, a cash register,” she pointed out. Right up to the end, Katie kept her money in a muffin tin and a cigar box.

Another change is the store’s name. “I didn’t feel it was important to keep the Greene Center name,” Monica said. “Darvin told me Katie had wanted to change the name of the store, but it was too much trouble.”

Monica and Merlin spent a lot of time deciding what to call the business. “We made lists of names,” Monica said. Then Merlin came across the word “Jubilee” in a concordance to the Bible. When they saw what it meant, they knew they had found their name.

Leviticus, Chapter 25, reads, in part, “You shall make the fiftieth year holy, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants of it: it shall be a jubilee to you; and you shall return every man to his possession, and you shall return every man to his family.”

Katie Yoder owned the store for 50 years.

In addition to Bibles and other Christian books, both fiction and nonfiction, Monica will sell greeting cards, gifts and music, with most items priced in the lower end of the price spectrum. She also will stock the popular Dutch Blitz card game.

There will be a First Communion, Confirmation and Baptism section with gifts and other items.

“I’m going to have a Kids’ Corner where kids can sit in bean bag chairs and read books,” Monica said. In addition to children’s books, she will stock children’s videos and stuffed animals. She’ll have a stock of Veggie Tales as soon as she goes to a trade show in a few weeks.

There will be an Amish/Mennonite information area featuring both fiction and nonfiction books.

Monica is considering accepting family genealogies, cookbooks and tapes of local music groups to sell on a consignment basis.

Not wanting to duplicate anything else sold in Kalona, Jubilee will not stock crafts, antiques or quilts.

“I hope people will see this place as the ‘birth’ of a store. Deciding what to stock is a process of trial and error,” Monica said. “For instance, do we carry church bulletin covers?”

Monica hopes to rebuild the store’s relationship with the local churches. “I’d like to provide materials for Bible School and Sunday School. I’d love to work with the churches on building their libraries.”

Monica said she will always have a sale bill. “Something will be on sale all the time.” She also plans holiday promotions with Valentine’s Day being the first one.

If you ever doubt that dreams can come true, go visit Monica Miller in Jubilee Books and Gifts. She is living proof that yes, indeed, they do.