Keeping Good Karma

AE_booksLocal spiritual bookstore searching for buyer in order to keep its doors open
One of the things that makes Santa Cruz such a special community to so many people is its sense of spiritual diversity and tolerance. Zen centers, Baptist churches and Jewish synagogues coexist in peaceful harmony, allowing area residents to find their spirituality in the precise way they see fit. To find that fit, people have been turning to Gateways Bookstore for the past three decades. More than just a bookstore, Gateways is a spiritual haven; a harbor if you will, where people can discover their inner anchor and find refuge from life’s storms.

After 35 years of assisting the spirituality seeking, Gateways is in need of some assistance of its own. Hanuman Fellowship, the parent company of Gateways, is searching for a buyer. But what prompted the decision to try to sell this popular bookstore? “I can’t say there is one single thing,” says Ratna Sturz, an original founder and Mt. Madonna and board member who has worked with Hanuman Fellowship since its inception. “Our main project is Mt. Madonna Center, which takes a lot of energy, staff and resources. We have the Mt. Madonna School and the Mt. Madonna institute at the property. We offer a master’s program in Ayurveda and we are developing a master’s program in yoga. We also run and manage the Pacific Cultural Center and an orphanage in India.” Sturz  explains that over the years, Hanuman Fellowship has branched into so many projects dedicated to serving the community, that the viability of operating and maintaining a bookstore amidst an already full plate is no longer feasible. In addition to the economic considerations of the times, Ward Mailliard, President of Hanuman Fellowship, feels that the organization now needs to focus on other aspects of the community. “We’ve done everything humanly possible to keep the store open to the community,” he says with a hint of sadness. “But our resources are not infinite, and we are in a position where we can only handle several liabilities. We have worked so hard to provide this service to the community, but now we need to pass this on to someone else.”

Many spiritual bookstores of this type have been unable to remain open in this economic climate, what with the advent of online booksellers and digital reading devices, but Hanuman Fellowship believes that Gateways is in a niche of its own and able to remain financially viable if purchased and nurtured by the right owner. “The key thing we want prospective buyers to know and believe is that there still is potential for Gateways to be very successful,” says Sturz. “So many people have been creative with ideas and so many of them could be the right formula, but we just don’t have the momentum to keep it going longer. There are other things that we need to do with our lives right now, but we want it to pass into good hands to someone else that will care for it with the respect and devotion that we have over the years.”

Finding a buyer would be a tremendous boon for Santa Cruz, however if Gateways does indeed close its doors for good, Hanuman Fellowship is imbued with a deep sense of gratitude to the community for the time shared together. “We’ve had a fantastic run,” Mailliard says. “People are there because they believed in the mission of the store. What really matters to me is that people made a commitment to an ideal over a long period of time and made sacrifices for it. I think it’s a miracle that a community the size of Santa Cruz has supported Gateways as long as it has. We are one of the last ones around, and that the population has supported us says a lot about our community and what Gateways represents to the community.”

The closure of Gateways would indeed mean the loss of a valuable spiritual resource. “It will be a loss of the commons,” Mailliard continues. “The commons are very important to the life of the community and it will affect the communal life because we are losing an important gathering place.” David Garbacz, General Manager and Buyer of Books at Gateways wholeheartedly agrees. “We feel Gateways is the hub for all of the traditions and all of the ideas about human potential that are happening in Santa Cruz,” he says. “I have traveled the world over, and I know for a fact that there is not another store like this in its breadth and depth anywhere. Gateways reflects the interests and special qualities of Santa Cruz. It is remarkable in that way.” Garbacz notes that stores like Gateways are becoming very rare in the world, and even in cities as large as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, spiritual bookstores are few and far between. “Santa Cruz seems like practically the last town with enough spirituality to support one,” he says. “People will fly in from Kansas. Despite the tough time with the economy, I still think there’s a lot of interest for spirituality and healing.”

Since news of the potential closure has spread, the community has rallied around in an effort to save Gateways. “As a response, people are trying to be proactive,” Sturz explains. “We’ve had a carpenter come down to offer to fix things, and another woman trying to get her friends together to purchase it. People want to be responsible for helping the store succeed. People are experiencing sadness and grief, yet understanding.”

Garbacz adds that the employees at Gateways have acted as non-stop grief counselors. “People have been really upset at the news,” he says. “There’s denial, bargaining, anger—we’ve seen it all. This has been a sanctuary. When people are having a tough time, they come here.”

Gateways will be open for business as usual at least until the end of the year. Meanwhile, Hanuman Fellowship is hoping and praying that a buyer will surface. With the state of the world today, spirituality is becoming ever more important, and the people of Santa Cruz will continue to need a spiritual refuge in which to find answers to life’s most difficult questions. Sure you can buy a book online, but it’s the community of likeminded people and the knowledge acquired in a place like Gateways that is truly indispensable.

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