Byline: SHERRI BURI McDONALD The Register-Guard
AT HARVEST HOUSE Publishers, a Christian book publisher with its headquarters in west Eugene, a hushed serenity descends on the warehouse at Christmastime - and that's just fine by the company's owners and 120 workers.
For the firm's books, decorative plates and other gift items to reach store shelves - and perhaps lie wrapped beneath Christmas trees - by the 25th, the company had to ship out the bulk of its holiday merchandise way back in October.
Like many other companies, Harvest House is feeling the effects of the national economic slowdown.
But unlike other industries that have suffered cuts in revenues and employment, 28-year-old Harvest House is still growing, albeit at a slower pace than in the late 1990s.
In November 2001, Harvest House moved into a spacious 100,640-square-foot building it owns in Greenhill Technology Park.
Harvest House and the shuttered Rosen Products factory are the only tenants in the sprawling park on the north side of Highway 126.
Employment at Harvest House had been growing at 15 percent annually. Harvest House president Bob Hawkins Jr. expects that to slow down to 3 percent to 8 percent.
He predicts that company sales this year will increase 7 percent or 8 percent over last year.
"We're pleased with that," Hawkins said, "given the state of the economy."
The closely held family-owned company doesn't disclose a dollar figure for sales. Harvest House sells about 7 million books a year.
Compared with other industries - and publishing overall - Christian book publishers are still experiencing substantial growth.
Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show bookstore sales rose 9.7 percent in 2001, nearly triple the gains in retailing overall, according to the Christian Booksellers Association, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Sales in adult trade books were down 2.6 percent, but the religious segment saw a gain of 4.7 percent, the association said.
Another strong year
Early indicators show that this Christmas season for Christian books is holding its own, said Kelly Gallagher, vice president of the Evangelical Christian Publisher's Association in Tempe, Ariz.
He predicts that the sector will finish on par with or slightly up from last year.
"All the data we've been able to collect indicate that Christian publishing has typically been doing at least several percentage points better than its secular counterparts," he said.
Lynn Garrett, religion editor for trade magazine Publisher's Weekly, predicts decent holiday book sales across the board because books are such a reasonably priced gift.
Religious books have long been considered recession-proof, with readers turning to books for inspiration and spiritual guidance in both good times and bad.
But Christian book publishers say they are finding that's not necessarily the case anymore.
"Our industry is not seeing the 'recession-proof resilience' we used to enjoy," said Bill Anderson, president of CBA.
"While we may have seen a spiked increase in interest in our products," he said, "terrorist attacks, disappointing Wall Street performance, unemployment, pending layoffs, cutbacks, and recession . …