A brightly lit, bushy Christmas tree stands in a corner of Heart to Heart Christian Supply, draped in gold ribbon and adorned with ornaments strategically placed upon its branches.
Couches sit on either side of the tree — overstuffed invitations to patrons to relax and read. Small tables and chairs, available for customers to sip a cup of coffee and chat, complete the scene.
“We wanted to have a place like this with a homey, comfortable atmosphere where people could come and sit, have coffee and visit,” said Donni Mize, co-owner of the store in downtown Columbia.
Donni and her husband, Jeff, sell books, Bibles, church supplies, home-school materials and gifts such as crosses, flowers, candles and statues.
“Jeff and Donni are a blessing for the community. They give people the ability to get Christian musical tapes and books,” said Archie Jackson, who said he has been a customer of Heart to Heart for several years.
The Mize family moved from St. Peters because Jeff took a job in Columbia. Donni Mize said they relied on their belief that God brought them to the city for a reason. The couple, who had always hoped to one day own a small Christian book store, bought Heart to Heart in May 2002.
Heart to Heart has been in Columbia since 1992. It was located on Nifong Boulevard before moving to 1 S. Fourth St. a year and a half ago to allow for more room to promote products while maintaining the home-like atmosphere.
In the family’s experience, God works in mysterious ways. In her mission to serve people, Mize has provided help in a number of ways.
Once, she said, a young man came into the store because he felt the need to be around Christians. After talking for some time, he revealed that he had rejected his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. It happened that Mize knew his sponsor and was able to get them back together.
Another situation, she said, occurred when an individual needed a place to rest during the day in between appointments; Heart to Heart was a welcoming site.
Mize is willing to help others in any way she can, however, she said she prefers to offer concrete items such as bus tokens, food or calling around to set up job interviews for others rather than giving money. In this way, she knows that her assistance is being used properly.
“I like to build relationships with people who come in here,” Mize said. “My customers become like family.”
Freddie Massey, a regular customer, said, “Donni is a close friend and a good business partner who does a lot to help people with disabilities.” He has also written inspirational books and computer artwork that the store sells.
The store also sells CDs by local musicians.
“I have somebody come and play music once in a while,” Mize said. “I’d like to promote this on campus; if there are students who play the guitar, keyboard or sing, I’d love to have them here.”
The store also hosts book clubs and Bible study groups. “I like having people in here,” she said.
She emphasized the hardships of being a small, locally owned business. For example, it is hard to compete with the chains — in Columbia, Lemstone Books and Wal-Mart — because they can order in bulk and get better prices. But small businesses, she said, can provide customer service and personal attention.
A concern of small independent business owners, she said, is that, if people do not patronize places like Heart to Heart, the stores will no longer be there.
“Revenue is necessary,” Mize said, “but my goal is to have a place people can go and I can provide help and support.”