What: Probasco’s Christian Bookstore.

Where: 344 N. Lincoln Ave., Loveland.

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.

The sign advertising Bibles and wigs outside Probasco’s Christian Bookstore in downtown Loveland often earns a double-take or a chuckle from passersby.

But the owners of the shop that marked its 50th anniversary last month say their business is a ministry, and providing wigs to customers who need them is just as much an opportunity to minister to people’s needs as is selling them a Bible.

“If we were nothing but a Christian bookstore, who would come in? Christians or someone who would want to buy a gift for a believer,” said Frieda Probasco, who launched the store Sept. 17, 1968, with her late husband, Paul.

“But we have all walks of life coming in for the wigs,” she said. “We are careful that we pray for every person who comes in the door every day.”

Frieda’s son Bart Probasco and his wife, Cindy, now own and operate the store, but Frieda still works Thursday and Friday afternoons.

In a conversation with Frieda, there’s no way to escape her conviction that the store’s founding and its longevity are due only to the grace of God.

“We were never smart enough to run a business, and we still aren’t,” she said. “It was from Day 1 that God just blessed us.”

She and Paul founded their business on two Bible verses, Jeremiah 33:3 (“Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not”) and 1 Corinthians 2:9 (“But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him”).

“We were at the mercy of the Lord the whole time. We still are,” Frieda said.

When it first opened at 344 N. Lincoln Ave., it sold neither Bibles nor wigs.

“It was actually women’s dresses and shoes,” Bart said. “Kind of a factory outlet store before that was ever even a term.”

The wigs came along shortly after, Frieda said.

“My hair was never healthy; it’s thin and fine,” she said. Hairstyles in the ’60s required quite a bit of work, especially for a woman with her hair type, she said. As a mother of six, it often felt easier for her to just stay home rather than try to make the time to fix her hair for an outing.

So when a notice appeared in the Reporter-Herald advertising a three-day event in the old State Dry Goods building to introduce the first synthetic wigs, Frieda and a friend made plans to go.

She was smitten with the light-as-air “miracle fiber” and bought a wig, even at the shocking price of $127.

Frieda said she always had a knack for hair, so she learned to care for and style her hairpiece, without her friends ever knowing that she was wearing one.

Not long after that, she and Paul took the opportunity to start selling wigs at Probasco’s, knowing that their relationship with the man in Denver who provided them with the closeout clothing wouldn’t last forever.

“Little bitty shelf of Living Bibles”

“Paul said, ‘I feel a real need for a Christian Bible bookstore; let’s add some Bibles,'” she recalled. “We just started with a little bitty shelf of Living Bibles in 1972.

“Gradually as God blessed the wigs, we were able to add the Bibles and Christian books,” she said.

Frieda can recall vividly an example of God’s providence in their lives. At 3 a.m. on Easter morning 1988, they received a call saying the building next door to Probasco’s was on fire.

She and Paul paused and prayed that no one would be hurt, then hurried downtown to see “all those flames going up so high.” Firefighters were about to pry open the store’s front door when Paul showed up with the key.

“When they opened the front door and hauled in those huge hoses, ready to turn them on, the fire chief put his hand across the back of the store (a wall adjoining the burning building). He said, ‘Well, this wall is cool.’ They never had to turn them on.”

It was the wall holding the store’s extensive inventory of Bibles.

“Yes, that wall is standing on the Word of God!” Frieda said that morning. The store wasn’t damaged and was closed for only half a day after the fire, which later was determined to have been caused by an arsonist seeking insurance money.

“God protected us so wonderfully,” she said. “The next day, when a reporter said ‘you were so lucky,’ I said, ‘Please don’t put the word ‘luck’ in the newspaper. The Lord protected us.'”

About 25 years into the store’s history, Bart said his parents decided they wanted to sell off the Christian bookstore part of the business and continue with the wigs, which were more profitable. They asked all their children if anyone wanted to take over, and no one did.

Bart and Cindy were living in the Denver area, where he had been working for UPS for 13 years. After they declined their parents’ offer, Cindy came to him and said she had been praying about the bookstore idea, and maybe they should reconsider.

“My parents said, if you want to move back up here, you could live on the home place,” Bart said. “We wanted our kids to grow up near their grandparents. We took the plunge. … I quit my job and came up here.”

Seven years later, Paul Probasco died.

“Paul’s been gone 18 years, and we still miss him so much,” Frieda said.

Cindy has learned to fit and service the wigs and covers the days when Frieda isn’t working, Bart said.

The wig business has changed over the years, from fad and high fashion to medical necessity, Paul and Frieda said.

“Now we help a lot of people who have hair problems,” Bart said. “It’s mostly medical stuff that people are dealing with.”

“We’re here to minister however we can.”

The majority of the wig customers are women, he said, but they also get transgender people who want long hair.

“We’re here to minister however we can. Sometimes that’s just an encouraging word, sometimes that’s praying with someone who’s going through a hard time,” Bart said.

“People with cancer, they’re wondering, ‘Is this going to take my life?'” he said. “Sometimes the Lord has them prepared for a spiritual conversation. … You hope you’re able to speak words to bless and encourage, and provide them with a product that will help them with their healing.”

The Probascos acknowledge that small independent bookstores are now few and far between.

“Sometimes we think, ‘How in the world are we still in business?'” Bart said.

“The grace of God!” Frieda offered from the background.

“God puts you in a certain place. You just need to be about spreading his Word, living for him and letting him take care of the rest,” Bart said.

Bart Probasco, left, his mother, Frieda Probasco, center, and wife Cindy Probasco pose for a photo Friday in their shop in downtown Loveland. Bart and Cindy own the shop known for Bibles and wigs, which Frieda co-founded 50 years ago with her late husband, Paul, as a discount women’s clothing store. (Jenny Sparks / Loveland Reporter-Herald)