St. Petersburg Times: Teaching Scientology from the Storefront

Source: St. Petersburg Times
Date: October 30, 2005

The church's Life Improvement Center is being housed inside Westfield Citrus Park Mall until January.

by Stephanie Hayes, Times Staff Writer

CITRUS PARK - The Church of Scientology has quietly set up shop in a closed Italian restaurant inside Westfield Citrus Park Mall.

The church's Life Improvement Center will fill the spot vacated by Castaldi's Market & Grill near the food court until January.

The mall is looking for a new restaurant to take over after that, mall marketing director Mary Ellen Norton said.

Castaldi's plush seating remains, and copies of Scientology books including Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, by church founder L. Ron Hubbard, are on sale.

A sign for a "free stress test" hangs in the window. Two or three church members work at the store.

Church member Les Warren, who helps out at the store, said about 150 people have come in to chat or buy books since it opened a few weeks ago.

No one has complained to the mall about the store's presence, Norton said.

In University Mall, where church members run a kiosk and sometimes approach shoppers who pass by, some have complained, general manager Tom Locke said.

But, he added, "I don't think they realize how many different religions do use malls. There are Christian book stores all over the place."

The Clearwater church, founded on the teachings of science fiction writer Hubbard, has had a presence in Tampa since 1980, said Pat Harney, Clearwater church spokeswoman. Harney said malls are just another way to reach the public.

"It just helps to spread the word," Harney said. "People in the mall are just as likely wanting spiritual release as anyone else, and it's a way for them to find out about it."

Harney said the church doesn't plan to open a kiosk in Westfield Citrus Park Mall after the Life Improvement Center closes, but added, "Then again, things could change."

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