October 8, 2009

Bloom overcomes criminal past to build thriving Christian book business

Update: I met with Gerald Bloom today at this Treasures store on Durand Avenue. When I walked in he was just starting a half-hour meeting with his staff explaining his past. A few key points on the 1988 crime:

* He was excessively drunk at the time of the shooting.

* He fired the gun from his hip in no particular direction (which is supported by a Kenosha News story that reported a police officer saw Bloom fire the rifle without aiming).

* He wasn't part of a white supremacist group and didn't target the African-American church across the street from his house.

* The accusations of racism came from a witness who cut a deal with the District Attorney's office, Bloom said. Prosecutors also labeled him a "skinhead."

But the more interesting part of Bloom's story started 10 years ago when his wife asked him for a divorce. She then was saved by the church. After being separated for a year, Bloom also was saved and he reconciled with his wife. (Bloom said reconciling with his wife was important because his parents had marital troubles and he didn't want to pass on that type of relationship to his children.)

They then bought the Treasures Christian bookstore in Kenosha. The bookstore was a small, barely profitable business until one day Bloom asked a distributor about buying returned and overstocked Christian books. The question sparked a booming international business.

Bloom buys discarded books at 15 cents on the dollar and sells them, mostly online, at a nice profit. In the past five years he's grown his inventory at a staggering pace, requiring two moves and now plans for a brand new 80,000-square-foot building in Racine's Southside Industrial Park.

As for his past, Bloom said it's long behind him. Treasures makes a point to hire inmates and ex-inmates in hopes of giving them stable ground to build on, Bloom said. He also once walked right into HALO's homeless shelter and hired people. One man used the job to turn his life around and now has a $100,000 a year job in Tennessee. Another ex-employee just landed a high-paying job in Kenosha.

Bloom's staff members are a diversity of races; they responded favorably to his life story during the meeting on Friday. By the end people were laughing and ready to head back to work.

Following the staff meeting, Bloom said his time in prison still gives him insight into what it's like for people in similar situations. He considered those dark days in the late 1980s as part of God's will.

He also attributes Treasures' success to God. "I tell my staff I'd take credit if I deserved it, but I'm just not that good," said Bloom, who described business connections that opened up for him for no rational reason.

Looking back, Bloom said he never imagined this type of success while sitting in prison as a troubled 19-year-old. But then again, he never imagined five years ago Treasures would take off like it has.

"I have no idea what it will be like five years from now," he said.

(One thing Bloom isn't looking for is a massive company that collapses under its own weight. He's more interested in many smaller companies that grow independent of each other.)

As an aside, Bloom credited Mayor John Dickert, City Development Director Brian O'Connell, RCEDC's Jenny Trick and the BCI Group for helping him put together his plans for the Southside Industrial Park building, which is being designed with solar panels, bamboo floors and other environmentally friendly materials and concepts.

"I didn't know a thing about buildings," Bloom said, adding Trick and the BCI Group were particularly helpful.

Original post:

Gerald Bloom has turned his life around.

The owner of Treasures Media in Racine made a local splash Wednesday when he announced plans to build an 80,000-square-foot warehouse in Racine to expand his Christian book distribution company. Bloom plans to add 26 employees and hopefully grow from there. (Right: Bloom addresses the Redevelopment Authority on Wednesday.)

Wednesday's announcement, complete with television cameras and an appearance with Mayor John Dickert, is a far cry from Bloom's dark past.

The Kenosha native served time in prison in 1989 and 1990 after he fired a rifle into an occupied church. Twelve people, including three children, were attending services at Friendship Baptist Church in Kenosha when the shooting occurred around 7 p.m. on Aug. 8, 1988. No one was injured, but a stained glass window was shot out.

A 19-year-old Bloom, who graduated from St. Catherine's High School, and 17-year-old Richard Harris were arrested for the shooting, according to a Kenosha News article from the time. During the trial, prosecutors accused Bloom of being a "skinhead" and alleged the shooting was racially motivated. Bloom denied he was part of any type of white supremacist group.

But reports and evidence from the time linked Bloom to racially motivated crime.

Harris, who was Bloom's roommate, was convicted of spray painting racially charged graffiti on a fence in the neighborhood, according to Kenosha News articles.

During Bloom's trial, Harris testified he was with Bloom when the shooting occurred. He said Bloom drank heavily that day and had a discussion about not liking black people.

Also, at a community hearing, the Kenosha News reported in August 1988 that neighbors to the church believed Bloom was part of a white supremacist group.

Bloom was also convicted in 1990 for being part of a group that confronted a couple, chased them in a car and then kicked out a car window.

Despite his past, the owner of Treasures Media, who didn't return phone calls from RacinePost on Thursday, is thriving. Bloom and his wife bought a small Christian bookstore in Kenosha in 2002 and turned it into a successful online business. Bloom moved the company to a 26,000-square-foot building on Durand Avenue in Racine and is now planning another expansion.

Bloom announced Wednesday he was planning to build an 80,000-square-foot distribution facility in Racine's Southside Industrial Park, which is the former Jacobsen-Textron property. The warehouse and office will be built on 5.4 acres of land and employ about 60 people.

The city is giving Bloom the $35,000 per acre land for free, as long as he lives up to terms of an agreement he signed with the city.

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