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Utah businesses boom as more Mormon youths choose to serve as missionaries

SALT LAKE CITY — Since founding the Orem-based MissionaryMall with her husband in 1997, Jenni Theobald has taken a special interest in providing for the unique clothing needs of sister missionaries, having once been one herself in Brazil.

In 2005, the couple added another building in Orem to make room exclusively for their female merchandise, eventually dubbing the new locale as the Sister Missionary Mall.

Thanks to recent changes in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' missionary age requirements, Theobald and her husband may have to expand again.

October's announcement that LDS young men can leave for missions at 18 and young women at 19 has created a lucrative windfall for several companies that focus their business heavily — and sometimes exclusively ­— on the mission preparation of young Mormons along the Wasatch Front.

Recently, the LDS Church reported that missionary application levels are about twice as high as pre-announcement averages and living capacity at the Provo Missionary Training Center will increase from 3,000 to 4,800.

Predictably, demands for services like the ones Theobald provides have increased dramatically, prompting the Sister Missionary Mall to create a sisters-exclusive website, double its workforce and even extend its hours.

The business soon will be opening at 9 a.m. instead of 10 a.m., when there is sometimes already a line formed outside the store.

According to Theobald, it's so far, so good, but only time will tell whether the increased business is a permanent shift or a temporary spike.

"The next few months will be telling for us. With the busyness of the Christmas season, it was hard to say for sure why it picked up so much," she said. "But so far, January hasn't slowed down at all."

Mr. Mac also has seen a jump in sales throughout its nine locations from Logan to Orem, and the company recently announced it will be adding a Sister Mac department to each of its stores by April.

"We've often wanted to be a stronger resource for sister missionaries," said Stuart Christensen, co-owner of Mr. Mac. "But we haven't always had the impact in that market that we wanted, just because the number of sisters hasn't been large enough to really go after that market. Manufacturers now have a stronger interest, realizing that the pool is much larger."

But it isn't just the clothing industry that has seen a boost, said Maureen Porter, the religious book buyer at the BYU Bookstore.

"We are literally doubling up on journals and scripture-marking materials," she said. "All of the pre-missionary materials have been selling like crazy. … If we left our earlier (purchase order) numbers the same, our system would be re-ordering literally every day."

Many dentists, too, have been busier since the church's announcement. A greater number of prospective missionaries have been making a visit to cross off the required dental exam from their to-do list.

"Typically, I would say I fill out paperwork for missionaries twice per month," said Brody Hart, who practices in West Jordan. "And since October, I've done it six times just for younger missionaries, and that doesn't count the ones that are an older age already. I'd say it's almost a 100 percent increase in three months."

The biggest anxiety for some businesses is simply keeping up with the growth in the first place.

"We're kind of nervous because of what we keep hearing about how many (missionaries) are going," said Austin Taylor, who transports packages daily for "I might need a big box truck soon."


Twitter: @benlockhart89