Prairie Bookroom had extremely strict policies on what it would carry and by diligently guarding the flock from this type of worldly influence they provided no option for those interested in other types of music. John Toplensky, the proprietor of IDA, had carved out a very nice niche market in the selling of Contemporary Christian Music or CCM as it is called. John carried some secular music, but focused primarily on CCM as distributed by WORD Canada.
I saw no reason why the secular couldn't live in harmony with the sacred and so I would eagerly await the arrival of the latest releases. Albums by Love Song, Daniel Amos, Phil Keaggy, 2nd Chapter of Acts or Keith Green would quite happily co-exist in my collection alongside the Eagles, April Wine, Alan Parsons, Chilliwack, Joe Walsh and many other titles. I would be there waiting the day a new shipment arrived. John would let me special order LP's that he wasn't planning on stocking. He also began to bring in recording magazines of which I couldn't seem to get enough of. The WORD rep would come to town and hold "listening parties" of the latest music and hand out prize packs of singles, promo flats, etc. This effectively fueled my fire.
Back in the day, WORD ran a coupon program with stickers placed on all of their LP's and cassettes. If you bought 3, you would get one free, but later that program moved to buy 4 and then buy 5 and then eventually was done away with all together. The coupons were stuck to the outside of the shrink-wrap and on occasion WORD would "double coupon" in order to incentivize the buyer. I would carefully save up my coupons waiting to use them on just the right title. I always bought the vinyl, feeling that the cassettes were too low quality and thinking of myself as quite the little audiophile. I loved the LP jackets with all the liner notes, lyrics, pictures and large artwork. In my mind the absence of these extras is one of the great losses in the new digital delivery world we live in.
Over the years I became as familiar with the music inventory in the store as John himself or maybe even more so. I had started noticing that many of the LP's were missing their coupons. There were holes in the cellophane where they should have been. It looked like someone had taken a little exacto knife and just cut a neat square around each one. I talked to John about this and he didn't seem to have any idea where the missing stickers were wandering off to. This was before closed circuit TV became popular.
Several weeks later as I was perusing the stacks of LP's, I noticed a most curious sight. Right beside me was a middle aged woman from the community. This lady and her husband owned a business in town and were very upstanding citizens. As she would flip an album forward, I could see her take the nail of her index finger and jab it down into the cellophane behind the coupon. Quickly, she worked her long, sharpened fingernail all the way around the coupon, pocketing it and moving on to the next one. I was shocked to say the least! She was very focused and by the efficiency of the act, looked like she had done this a time or two before. To this day I am not sure why she didn't notice me or seem to care if anyone was watching her, but she was making quite a haul. I wasn't really sure what to do, being only 14 or 15 at the time. I should have said, "Hey, Mrs. so and so, what do you think you're doing?", or something to that effect, but I didn't. I walked to the back of the store and found John. After telling him what had happened, he assured me that he would keep an eye out for this woman. Some time later I was visiting with him and he mentioned that he had caught her doing exactly what I had described. He confronted the lady and the coupons stopped disappearing.
In later years, as I visited with many store owners, I was told that Bibles and Christian music are some of the most stolen items in stores. Since that time, I have never looked at long fingernails the same!
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.