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House of James bookstore in Abbotsford celebrates 50 years

Bookstore and coffeehouse began in Mission in 1973
The House of James in Abbotsford celebrates its 50th anniversary with an event on Saturday, June 24. (Submitted photo)

House of James in Abbotsford holds a 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday (June 24).

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the store (2743 Emerson St.) and includes a cake-cutting at 1:30 p.m.

In the late 1960s, a cultural movement was developing among a portion of society, sometimes referred to as “drug-using, counter-culture hippies.” Hundreds of thousands of young people began studying the teachings of Jesus in a phenomenon that became known as the Jesus Movement.

In 1970, overseen by several Mission pastors and churches, a group of 20 teens started the House of James as a coffeehouse drop-in centre to reach out to these free-spirited youth.

The decision was made in 1973 to turn the drop-in centre into a bookstore, and Lando Klassen became the store manager.

Klassen lived in the back room, at times sharing the space with others as needs arose. Funding for the bookstore came from Klassen’s savings account of $700 and an arrangement with a Surrey Christian book distributor to provide books on consignment, and he paid only for what sold each month.

Out of the Jesus Movement came rock music based on the teachings of the Bible, and one of the distinguishing services House of James offered was to import record albums from California. Known as Jesus Rock or Jesus Music, young people travelled from all over to House of James to find this unique music.

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The store grew, and a larger location was found just down the street. However, with so many customers coming from Abbotsford and beyond, in 1983 Klassen and his wife Kathy decided to move to Little Oak Mall in Abbotsford.

The new location was about 1,700 square feet and the business began to grow dramatically. With more space, in addition to the music which became known as contemporary Christian music, a larger section of books and Bibles were offered, as well as greeting cards and giftware.

In 1990, with the advent of computers, Klassen quickly recognized the value of technology to serve customers more effectively and operate the store more efficiently.

Computerization changed everything, allowing staff to efficiently source and order books for customers. House of James developed a reputation as the go-to place for hard-to-find items and became known throughout the province and beyond for its wide selection.

Klassen maintained that a key to good service was to have the best possible team; he became known for a rigorous interview process.

Over 50 years, House of James has had more than 200 staff, many staying between 10 and 30 years.

In 1997, after continual growth and several expansions in Little Oak Mall, House of James moved to the former Nissan dealership on Emerson Street.

At 8,000 square feet, the store accommodated a much larger book display area as well as a full-service coffeehouse.

“We wanted to contract the coffee shop out but couldn’t find a partner. So we learned everything we could about coffee, and did it ourselves,” Klassen says.

House of James received several awards, including Canadian Christian Bookstore of the Year in 2000 and Western Canada Christian Bookstore of the Year in 2001.

Music continued to be an important aspect, and House of James participated in large concerts and festivals such as Jesus Northwest and the Back to the Blues festival. Regular live music concerts were featured in the back music room.

Klassen was honoured in 2013 with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Gospel Music association for his contributions, the only such award given to someone outside the music industry.

In time, a used book department was added along with large Playmobil and puzzle sections.

A major remodeling and expansion took place in fall of 2008, making room for a much larger coffeehouse with expanded baking equipment and a state-of-the-art sound system accommodating live music events.

For many years three or four events were held each month, including open mics featuring emerging local talent.

The coffeehouse – which includes fresh salads, paninis, sandwiches and in-house baked pastries – is well known for carrying Dolce Amore gelato from Vancouver.

The change to digital content changed the retail landscape dramatically, making CDs and DVDs almost obsolete within a few years. Today, the store continues alongside the eBook.

Klassen retired in July of 2021, selling the business to Pierre Déry, assistant manager of 30 years, and his wife Cathy.

The Dérys plan to move to a new location in the new year.

“We are thankful for all our customers, some who still remember the Mission days, and many more who have become part of the House of James community since,” Pierre said.

Abbotsford News Staff

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