In 1952 Tom and Nellie Constance bought an old shoe repair store at Ninth East and Ninth South and turned it into a Christian bookstore. They didn't dream that one day the family business would grow to three stores.
The couple has since retired, and their sons John, 42, and Tom, 33, now own Intermountain Book Store, one of the largest interdenominational bookstores in the area. The two have been co-owners for about four years.The main store occupied the old shoe repair space for six years before moving a couple of times and finally landing in its present location - 1986 S. 11th East in Sugar House.
For 15 years, it has occupied the north end of the old Ray Nielsen Furniture building. From the outside, the store looks relatively small, but inside various books and materials occupy 4,500 square feet.
As is true in many family partnerships, John said he and Tom enjoy a good working relationship.
"We complement each other in areas of skill and interest," he said. "Our offices are adjacent, and we consult together over many matters - big and small."
To add direction to their business, the brothers have composed a mission statement: "to be booksellers to the Christian community, providing resources in literature, music, church goods, and related products; these resources should enhance and enrich personal faith as well as further Christian ministry."
To accomplish this, the two have not only filled their store with appropriate books - but music, visual aids, greeting cards and gifts as well. The shelves are stocked with both Roman Catholic and Protestant customers in mind. The store does not carry LDS books and materials.
"The LDS market is extremely well-served along the Wasatch Front," Constance explained, "but there are still a number of LDS members who purchase visual aids and other items from our store for their Primary, Sunday School and Relief Society lessons."
Musical recordings and sheet music are major components of their business.
"The largest share of the music we sell is contemporary," Constance said. "It ranges from rock music with lyrics that carry a Christian message to softer music that's ideal for meditation. There is so much diversity."
The bookstore also carries liturgical music.
"This is very traditional church music - not hymns, but music by composers such as Bach," he said.
The store has a total of 12 to 15 part- and full-time employees in the Sugar House store and two branch stores - one at 6582 S. State and another in the Riverdale Shopping Center in Ogden.
"Of course, the number of employees depends on the season as well as the number of special projects we are working on during the summer," Constance said. "We also lean on our retired parents to provide a little extra help at Christmas and during vacation schedules."
Though the largest share of sales are posted in the Sugar House store, the other two branches are doing well, Constance believes, because they are in convenient locations.
"We repositioned the Ogden store several years ago," he said. "And we keep a careful watch on growth patterns in Utah for possible future expansion."
The business is centrally administered from Sugar House. Constance said he and his brother do a great deal of business over the phone to cities and towns in rural Utah, as well as in the Evanston area, southern Idaho and eastern Nevada.
The store has come into increased competition in its mail order business, Constance said, because toll-free numbers are being more widely used.
Despite everyday business worries, Constance is optimistic about the future.
"We are in a period of tightening up and bringing more efficiency to our current operations," he said. "By computerizing our business, we now have an up-to-the-minute update on all transactions in all three stores. We also have the capability for electronic orders."
And that efficiency has paid off in sales - and recognition. Just last year, the Sugar House store was voted the "store of the region" by the Christian Booksellers Association, an organization that covers Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.