Jim Walsh, PNI)
A 90-year-old Mesa woman lost her bookstore, where generations of Mormons had the unique opportunity to hold an original copy of the Book of Mormon, but not her life's work.
Helen Spencer Schlie was evicted from her crowded central Mesa bookstore, Old and Rare Books and Art, but she plans to continue sharing her historical book whenever possible, including at performances this summer of the Mormon musical "Saturday's Warrior."
Schlie said she didn't have enough foot traffic to pay the rent on the store, which closed Tuesday. She had been at the location, which is near the Mesa Mormon Temple, for about three years. She previously ran a bookstore with her late husband, Walt, at another location a few doors down from 1965 to 1990.
"I am going to miss the people who come. I have heard the most wonderful stories," Schlie said Tuesday as friends wheeled out boxes of books.
"I've had people hold it, touch it and feel the spirit of it," she said of her Book of Mormon, one of 5,000 original copies printed in Palmyra, N.Y., in 1830.
Schlie suddenly became the protagonist in a story that spread worldwide in May 2012, when her printing copy was stolen from the store.
A Texas book dealer purchased the title and preface pages from Jay Michael Linford, not realizing that the book had been stolen.
Eventually, Linford was arrested on suspicion of theft, and the book was returned to Schlie.
"It actually turned into a blessing," Schlie said. "At the same time it was stolen, Mitt Romney was running (for U.S. president), and there were all kinds of questions" about the Book of Mormon, said Schlie, a Mormon herself.
She said she believes the theft amplified interest in the Book of Mormon, which Mormons believe is another testament of Jesus Christ.
Richard F. Johnson, a longtime friend of Schlie's who serves as a counselor in the bishopric of a Phoenix ward, said he believes Schlie's store was the victim of a change in demographics and technology.
Although the Mesa temple was the center of Mormon life in the Valley for many decades, that is no longer the case, with a new temple open in Gilbert and another under construction in Phoenix, he said.