By WILLIAM PAINE
What kind of person works in a Christian themed bookstore?
Some might expect to find an individual so steeped in scripture as to be unrelatable to the average person.
Karen DeHart Phibbs, who has worked in the Emmanuel Christian Bookstore for nearly a quarter century, is anything but unrelatable. Karen is funny yet faithful, kind yet confident, and generally fun to be around.
Karen DeHart grew up in Draper and attended Draper Elementary School and then went on to Pulaski Middle School where she met Jimmy Phibbs.
“We were friends in middle school and all through high school and never dated,” said Karen. “I did his homework in high school. That’s how he graduated. He worked second shift at Jefferson Mills, so me and another girl would do his homework and bring it to him.”
Jimmy and Karen graduated in 1992 and began dating soon afterward. The two married in 1994. Two years after that, Karen began working at the Emmanuel Christian Bookstore.
“My husband and I were attending church with Carson Linkous and he opened the store 24 years ago,” Karen recounted. “Carson and them opened it because at the time there was a church in the building and the courts went there after the courthouse fire. So he decided he was going to open a Christian Book store, as kind of a storefront extra. I’ve been here the whole time.”
According to Karen, Rite Aid bought the old building and tore it down. The vacant Rite Aid building onsite there now was built in 1995.
“Our daughter was a year old, that’s how I remember it,” she said.
The book store moved across the street to the recent home of AMVETS before moving to its current location at 653 East Main Street in Pulaski. The Emmanuel Christian Bookstore shares the building space with Mark and Steve Horton’s Pulaski Appliances Sales and Service store. They own the building and their sister Debbie Ayers tends to the bookstore along with Karen.
“I do not have any siblings but this is God’s sense of humor, so they’re my adopted brothers and sisters,” said Karen. “It’s like a family affair and I get the same abuse all the way around.”
Debbie and Karen work conspicuously well together.
“We don’t have a manager, there’s just the two of us here,” said Karen. “We’re the Thelma and Louise show on Facebook every evening.”
Sometime after 4 p.m. most every day, Karen and Debbie do a live Facebook video that promotes the merchandise of the Emmanuel Christian Bookstore.
“We have cards, Christian Books, Bibles, CD’s, movies, pictures, Sunday school supplies and a little bit of anything to make your church function,” said Karen.
Their videos are informative, lighthearted and upbeat.
“We’ll run whatever specials we’re doing in the store,” said Karen of their Facebook Live videos. “Yesterday we were doing a half off Walmart thing and when new stock arrives we use it as a way to get the word out. We spend the evening encouraging people, to say there is hope at the end of the tunnel.”
Many small businesses have been having a hard time staying in business this year because of the COVID virus.
“The first couple of weeks was a little struggle but we picked up,” said Karen. “Business is good. The Lord has been really good to us this year. Through all of this it’s been a blessing.”
One wonders if COVID has had an effect on her customers.
“People were easier to deal with 20 years ago than today due to the fact that everybody is stressed in everything that’s going on in the world,” said Karen. “Nobody knows from day to day what what’s going to happen. Are we going to be shut down … are we going to be open? Even though we live in small town USA and we’re sheltered from a whole lot of things, I just think that people are more reaching for something than they were 20 years ago. Everybody’s on the hunt today. None of us have the right answers but it sure doesn’t hurt to have the Lord on your side.”
As is proper, the Christian bookstore shares its blessing.
“To date we’ve given away about 160 Bibles,” said Karen. “We’ve given about 70 away to the police and sheriff’s department.”
In addition to that, they’ve teamed up with the Community Christian Church to feed the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department and the Pulaski Police Department on multiple occasions.
“We felt like they needed to know that somebody was behind them and supporting them because the media makes everything look bad,” said Karen. “I wouldn’t put their badge on, so that was just the thought behind it … and that’s what we did.”
As one might expect, Karen and Jim Phibbs are active in their church, with Jim acting as an elder in the Pulaski Church of God while Karen regularly teaches in the Children’s Church.
“I love my kiddos,” said Karen. “I tell them all the time that I love the adults but I would much rather work with the kids. They’re much easier to get along with.”
Both are also very involved in Operation Christmas Child, which sends shoeboxes full of items like toys, toothbrushes, soap and a clothing item to children all around the world.
“They share the Gospel with the kids and there’s nothing greater than that,” said Karen.
Karen remembers the chilly night of Jan. 11, 2017 when the Pulaski Church of God burnt to the ground.
“It was a nightmare to say the least,” said Karen. “We stayed up all night long watching our church burn and there was nothing that we could do. It was heart wrenching but to see the new facility and what God has blessed us with is just amazing.”
After the fire, Don Jones became the new pastor of the Pulaski Church of God.
“I tell Pastor Don that he and I have a love/hate relationship,” said Karen. “He’s a Redskin fan and I’m a Cowboy fan, so I tell him all the time that he would preach better in blue. That’s just our thing but yes, we are very blessed with him. He’s a wonderful man.”
Karen has a unique connection with the Pulaski Church of God, as her oldest daughter Chelsea’s marriage to Mitch Akers was the last one to occur before the church burned. While Karen’s second born, Caileigh, was married to Jordan Litton in the first wedding to occur in the newly rebuilt Pulaski Church of God’s sanctuary.
The couple lives with their 9-year-old daughter Chayla, who loves horses.
“If she could have a dozen of them she would,” said Karen.
They live in the Robinson Tract area of Pulaski County.
“It’s quiet,” said Karen. “I would never make it in the city. I would probably lose my religion (laughs). I like being able to sit on my front porch and not seeing cars flying by and not the hustle and bustle. Just the whole everybody knows everybody kind of thing. I think that’s important, especially now.”
Jim works at Volvo as Karen spends most of the day at the bookstore, both of which can be hectic. So how do these two choose to relax?
“I love to go camping and the best place on earth is Gatewood,” declared Karen. “It’s a hidden secret. When you hear a phone ring here all day and go there and the phones don’t pick up … it’s wonderful.”
Both Karen and Jim like to fish. Jim is especially keen on paddling his kayak. Naturally they take their youngest daughter along.
Chayla’s second love outside of horses is at Gatewood trying to find salamanders,” said Karen. “She’s cool with hanging out on the edge of the water all day.”
So what’s the best part about working in a Christian bookstore?
“The best thing is just knowing you helped somebody out and brightened somebody’s day,” said Karen. “You can always find good in something, even when it’s been rough.”
To get an even better feel of the Thelma and Louise of the Emmanuel Christian Bookstore, check out their live Facebook feed daily around 4ish in the afternoon.
“Better still, come see us at Emmanuel Christian Bookstore,” said Karen.