Happy Birthday to PACE! 🎈

We want to celebrate our 20th birthday with you!

After several months of zoning meetings to get a ‘special exception’ to open a store in a rural/agricultural zone and 3 months of construction done by my husband and father-in-law, The Pennsylvania Curriculum Exchange opened for business on April 1, 2003. (No fooling!)

The history of the store with pictures is below, but first the part where you help us celebrate:

For the month of April 2023, everyone who comes by the store can enter into a drawing for one of five $20 gift certificates to be used on any purchase at PACE.

Details: Visit to the store is required, but no purchase necessary to enter. One entry per family. Drawing will be on May 2 during store hours, and winners will be announced on this blog that evening and have gift certificate mailed to them. Certificate is valid till the end of 2023.

This drawing isn’t just to celebrate 20 years in business but also to show our appreciation to our customers. The whole ‘exchange’ concept only works if people are not only willing to shop at the store, but also to entrust us to sell their consignments. We have had over 2,000 people open consignment accounts over the years, and for this we are very thankful!

Summer Hours will begin in May. We will add Fri/Sat to the T/W now. Hours TBD—I’ll send out another post on this.

The Story of PACE

The Pennsylvania Curriculum Exchange is actually the 4th store, I have opened. I have always loved books and, when I began homeschooling my oldest child in the fall of 1997 (she was 4), I discovered the joy of curriculum! I met the owner, Jenny Sockey, of the Titus 2 Woman’s Homeschool Potpourri in Washington State online, and she helped me set up my first store with 55 boxes of used curriculum she sold me which arrived in one day by UPS. But more importantly she gave me advice and information on how to start and run a store—I was a brand-new homeschooler and had never seen a curriculum store before.

Thus, the Northern Indiana Curriculum Exchange was begun. It opened in January 1998 in the basement of our home in Goshen, IN. After 2 1/2 years, my husband’s job moved us to South Carolina.

In a small rental on Main St, York, South Carolina, I opened my second store, The Curriculum Exchange. I only had it for one year before my husband’s job moved us again. I passed the store to a friend who successfully ran it for 14 years.

Then on to West Palm Beach, FL, where it was too bloomin’ expensive to rent a space and zoning regulations left zero room for in-home businesses. So curriculum withdrawal set in. BUT that hubby-job only lasted a year and then he decided to retire from the pharmaceutical industry. So we chose to go home to PA and figure out what to do.

We purchased our small farm in Dillsburg in Nov, 2002. There was a building on the property being used as a garage to repair semi-truck engines. All I could see was a PERFECT building for a curriculum store!

Previous owner’s hobby was to repair semi engines. A gravel driveway went around back where the entire back side of the building was a sliding door to let the big rigs in. The front also had a sliding door, but it was just car height.

We started the zoning meeting process in Dec 2002, which we knew would take months to get approval….SO, I decided to start up a mini-store in Pottstown PA, while waiting. I had a friend with a huge commercial building on High St. I rented the kitchen (!) for a very good deal. In case you were wondering, kitchen cabinets with the doors removed make excellent book cases! So with all the cabinet doors removed and about 12 regular bookcases, the mini PA Curriculum Exchange opened for business in January 2003. I was open one day/week and the store did fairly well, but after 3 years of that 2-hour commute (plus I’m hauling my kids there and homeschooling them between customers), I was exhausted and wanted to just focus on the Dillsburg store at home.

At the same time the Pottstown store got going, my husband and father-in-law began the renovation/construction of the garage.

The front corner where my science section is now.
That’s the side door behind my counter now.
Math section, of course! This is the rear of the building. Notice large sliding door on far left. In the original construction we just boxed off the corner with the sliding door and created a storage room. Several years later we expanded into that space and replaced the sliding door with a wall and people door.

After meeting with the township lawyers and later the supervisors, we were given the permission to open a store in February 2003. March saw the finishing off of the inside…new ceiling, windows, paneling, lighting and carpet.

Science section by front window.

At this time, Ames (where the Cinema Center is now in Camp Hill) was going out of business and we bought some display cases to fill our new space. Along with about 20 standard bookcases and maybe 1500 books, we opened for business on April 1. We had 2 customers that first day.

Same view as previous picture. The cube display case in front there held pantyhose at Ames 😁).
Open for business! We now have a front door and 2 front windows.

So now, 20 years later, we have had to renovate twice over the years to accommodate the expanding inventory (About 25% of the original building was just walled off as storage). We now have 120+ bookcases and ~44,000 books.

Language Arts
History on left, Math on right
One side of the Book Barn, located behind the original building.

I ran the store alone for the first four years. Then I hired Tina Rammel to help out. She was with me part-time for 6 years. Next, I was joined by Lisa (Kibler) Sibley. She started out part-time, but now is usually here whenever I’m open, and during the summer busy season, comes during closed hours to help keep up. She’s been with me for 10 years and I couldn’t do it without her!

Interesting random facts:

  • We bought the property without seeing it first. We were in FL and couldn’t make the trip up. My parents took a tour and reported to us about it. We got our first look at it the morning we signed papers for it. God was in control of the whole process from start to finish, and we learned a valuable lesson in trusting him! Turns out it has been the perfect home for our family, small farm, and business for 21 years!
  • We started renovations with no idea if we would get zoning approval for the business. But God said to do it, so we did.
  • My daughter, Sarah, who was the 4-year old when I started the Indiana store, is now 30 and a senior software engineer. Four years ago she wrote the software that now runs my store. Up ‘til then I did everything by hand on paper, with just a cash register to help. It would take me 3 months of working every day to make the annual payments to consignors. Now I click on a button on my computer and it’s done. 😁
  • Five months after we opened, PA was hit by Hurricane Isabel. It started off as a cat 5–biggest of the season. By the time it got to PA it had become a tropical storm, but was still scary-impressive. We had just gotten our first horse right before that. He had a run-in shed but no stall yet. We had no place safe to put him. So we cleared out the corner of the store that had been walled off for storage (and was still unfinished garage), slid open the huge sliding door still there at the time, and he rode out the storm in my store for 16 hours. So was he just a pony or a small horse?? No, he was half Percheron….a draft horse! And yep, that was fun to clean up afterwards…
  • Stats…during the first ten years of business, I averaged about 50 new consignment accounts/year. The last 3 years (since Covid), it’s been 180-200 new accounts/year. I started my first store in Indiana with 55 boxes of books. Now, during the summer busy season, I get in an average of 80 boxes per week, on consignment. The record for one person in one drop-off is 125 boxes.

Thanks for reading this far! Hope you can stop by and enter the contest this month. 🎈🎈🎈

Julie Helms

PA Curriculum Exchange 

 25 Ridge Road, Dillsburg, Pa 17019

 PACEbooks@live.com

 717-432-9947

Open T/W 12-4

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5 Responses to Happy Birthday to PACE! 🎈

  1. Deb Snyder says:

    Couldn’t have homeschooled without you! All those books are more than curriculum, they represent families who choose to home educate their children. Materials from one family to another. You were the conduit that keeps us well supplied. Thank you for your obedience and being such a blessing to our community!

  2. Muriel Hergenroeder says:

    Oh, my, that long already? I remember when you were the new kid on the block! Thanks for your dedication to the homeschooling community, and congratulations on your growth and continued success as a storefront in the age of the internet. Here’s to twenty more years!

  3. Karen Stoner says:

    Thanks for the enjoyable trip down your memory lane. I especially love the horse part! And thank you for being there for our homeschool community. CONGRATULATIONS on 20 years!

  4. mindy says:

    I love this story.

  5. Katie Jones says:

    Thank you for what you do! I am always excited to come to PACE, and often bring other new homeschooling moms with me. Thank you for your faithfulness, help, and encouragement, too. Congratulations on 20 years!

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