Paranormal club opens up store in Coos Bay

COOS BAY — Members of Paranormal Studies & Investigations of Oregon cringe when a reporter describes their spirited pursuits as a hobby.

"We've always been very passionate about it," said group co-founder Laura Schier.

Besides, what they do is a business now.

In recent weeks, the four-year-old ghost hunting club set up shop in downtown Coos Bay, selling apparel, spiritual bric-a-brac and, soon, a variety of digital devices to capture evidence of orbs, mists, disembodied voices and other anomalies.

Call it a paranormal pro shop.

Does this thing have a ghost of a chance of surviving?

Undoubtedly, club members say.

They have no illusions of turning big profits and quitting their day jobs. They say whatever money the new store makes goes right back into funding road trips for investigations beyond the Bay Area and for buying expensive ghost-chasing equipment.

"And it makes it a little more accessible for people who want an investigation to come and see us face to face instead of just calling," Schier said.

The club sells only merchandise, not services. Consultations and investigations are performed gratis.

"What we do is not scientifically proven," said founder Donna Stewart.

"I don't think you should charge for that."

They say provoking spirits for profit is strictly ta-BOO! in the paranormal community.

"It's for our benefit, anyway. It's our research," added tech specialist Josh Woods.

The club primarily services Western Oregon, averaging about two investigations a month. Clients are generally folks who want an explanation for the things that go bump in the night.

Though all members are believers - save for Donna Stewart's husband, Rick, the hardened skeptic of the bunch - they approach each case with a healthy dose of doubt.

"A lot of times, we find logical explanations for the things they're experiencing," Schier said.

However, they've amassed a chilling amount of evidence: photos of phantoms, video footage of creeping specters and audio recordings of otherworldly voices.

They'll eventually display their best footage on a monitor for walk-ins to watch.

Their new shop at 530 N. Broadway is more than a retail establishment. A workstation in the back features a hodgepodge of audio and video equipment members use to examine evidence.

A typical investigation yields about 32 hours of audio and video recordings, and all of it must be painstakingly dissected.

Before they had this centralized location, they had to share their findings and individually review them.

Now, multiple members can share the duties at once in the back room.

"It allows us to get back to our clients much quicker," Schier said.

"What used to take a week takes only days."

The club also will broadcast its twice-weekly Internet radio show from here. Woods said the show averages about 2,000 to 3,000 listeners the world over.

It features interviews of geek-favored celebrities such as Battlestar Galactica's Richard Hatch and Dustin Pari, star of Syfy Channel's Ghost Hunters International. Even American Idol contestant Kris Allen joined the show for conversation about sasquatch.

"He's a bigfoot fanatic," Stewart said.

PSI of Oregon comprises 10 certified members. These are the ones who have put in the hours to investigate in a professional capacity. They split rent and utilities for the new shop.

The club is fielding more and more membership requests, a trend perpetuated by the popularity of ghost-centric reality shows on cable television.

The club has three trainees, all it can handle for now.

"TV is giving it a lot of recognition," Schier said.

But the publicity isn't always welcome.

Members say they're concerned certain programs are giving ghost hunting a bad rap. Some celebrity investigators go to extremes to get a rise out of supposed entities - bloodletting, name-calling and performing live burials, among other techniques they view as unethical.

"We don't think that's a proper approach," Schier said.

The Bay Area's rich history makes it a hot spot for haunting. At least two other paranormal clubs operate locally, though PSI of Oregon is the only one to become a certified business.

It's considering becoming a nonprofit organization and hopes to embark on an educational mission of teaching youths the do's and don'ts of ghost hunting.

"It's not your average local business," Stewart said.

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