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Longtime religious bookshop to reopen in Amherst soon

A plan is under way to move LAOS Interfaith Bookstore, a fixture in the community since the early 1960s, to 55 South Pleasant St., possibly as early as September. The bookstore closed its site at the Amherst Carriage Shops June 30 in the face of an anticipated increase in rent.

The move is being overseen by Stephen Nagy, a Leverett resident who recently became president of the LAOS board.

As a small business consultant, operating Spiritual and Financial Educational Services, Inc., Nagy said he brings experience with similar small businesses.

“This is one I felt especially compassionate about,” Nagy said.

The new site, used as the Kamins Real Estate office prior to its move to Amity Street, and immediately adjacent to the former Jeffery Amherst Bookstore, includes an approximately 270-square-foot retail space on the ground level, as well as three offices and a kitchen upstairs.

Nagy said he envisions the small showroom being a place customers can browse for books that interest them. “At least people could come in and see what we have and place orders,” Nagy said.

It’s also possible LAOS could return to its original mission of being much broader than a bookstore, though Nagy acknowledged this may take time. He said people can use the store as a place to meet and have a library and other resources focused on religion.

“I see a lot of possibilities moving forward,” Nagy said. “I’m always looking for new ways to do things.”

Because the bookstore has not been dormant for long, he expects some of the same volunteers to return who have been part of the LAOS organization for decades.

The store inventory, which is now boxed and ready to be moved from the former site, includes more than 1,000 books from all denominations, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, as well as religions of indigenous American Indian tribes and Taoism and Confucianism. There are also books more broadly focused on topics such as peace, social justice and environmental causes, as well as bibles, liturgies, hymnals and sacred texts. Nagy said Jerald Gates, who owns the Carriage Shops site, has accommodated the needs of LAOS until it is ready to move to the new site. Nagy said the project is something he and his family are passionate about. In fact, his wife, Susan, is serving as treasurer for the board and his daughter Gabrielle, is the board’s secretary. They became interested in helping out when LAOS, in late March, put out an appeal to religious organziations and churches to assist with their plight.

LAOS began life in 1972, about a decade after David Shepherd King, a chaplain at Amherst College and the associate pastor at First Congregational Church, started an early ecumenical study group that brought together people of various religious backgrounds. The group fostered religious dialogue and cooperation among denominations and encouraged parishes to involve lay people in the ministry.

Before the new LAOS opens, it will get a new sign and the possibility of a new name. LAOS is derived from Lay Academy of Oecumenical Studies, but Nagy said there is growing confusion between the bookstore and the country of same name. His son, Timothy, has suggested incorporating “theo,” the Greek word for God, into the new name.

Nagy said having a site in a commercial area and not returning to a church feels right. While the bookstore had been housed at Grace Episcopal Church’s parish house on Spring Street until 2002 and later at Immanuel Lutheran Church, putting LAOS along a stretch of other businesses makes it more appealing to people of all faiths will give it more flexibility to meet a wide range of interests.

“Being a commercial space you can have more freedom in that regard,” Nagy said.

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