Page 4 of 4
"I owe so much money a month it is insane, and if I actually worried about it and thought about it, I probably wouldn't be able to sleep," Burks says. "But giveth and taketh away. I truly believe that...If you just continually spend it on yourself I don't think you'll ever be happy. Because there's no reward."
Cory Miller, the former co-owner of the Maulers, says that while Burks does spend money for the community's benefit, he most certainly expects to turn a profit.
"I mean, he's a business person, and he's in business to make money," Miller says. "He just doesn't do it for fun. He wants to bring something good to the community, keep it low cost and provide good entertainment to keep kids out of trouble.... But you don't want to continually keep feeding a program that's not working, and he's not a guy who would do that."
The way Burks cross-promotes his various entities suggests that Miller is right. At the Newsboys concert, for instance, Burks hung a Misty's Tanning and Ultimate Salon banner at the front entrance. Before the band played he again took the stage and paraded out Misty wearing a Maulers jersey with "Palin" written across the back.
"The reason I have Misty up here is because she's sporting something that is advertising somebody who's coming to town," he said, followed by cheers.
Burks went on to defend Palin's appearance, referencing hateful e-mails the Garden of Read'n has received since announcing the event. Palin isn't going to talk about politics, he said. She's not going to talk about health care reform or "the ridiculous 10 percent tax on tanning," a comment that draws laughs.
"She is going to talk about God, country and family—the three most crucial things that we are missing out on in this country," Burks said. "So, I'm just asking you to please look past the political part of Sarah Palin, and look at the fact that she has done one thing and she's not even here yet—she's let everybody know about Teen Challenge, and that's the most important thing."
Burks also took his time on stage to plug Brock Gill, a Christian illusionist the Garden of Read'n is bringing to town in November.
"If you like magic, and you like somebody who's completely sold out on God, you don't want to miss out on this thing," Burks said. "Because I've seen some of his YouTube videos, and he does some crazy stuff. But it's all in the name of Jesus Christ."
Business interests also appear to bleed into Burks' church affiliation, or lack thereof. He says he doesn't belong to a church, preferring to bounce around to thank pastors for supporting the bookstore.
"There are 35 churches in the [Missoula Christian Network] and we hit them all and shake a hand and say thank you very much and listen to what they've got going on there. It doesn't matter where you go. It's right here," Burks says, motioning to his heart.
As for Burks' political persuasion, he won't say on the record who he'd vote for in a hypothetical race between Palin and President Obama. He says he leans Republican.
"But there are issues on both sides I don't agree with," he says. "I'm not diehard by any means."
Regardless of his political beliefs, Burks' business style is anything but conservative. Those close to him say his gut, more than anything else, guides his decision-making.
"I like to think about things a lot more [than Burks], and I study every angle...," says Miller, who, at 28, owns Garden City Janitorial and BioSafe Solutions, a medical waste disposal company. "I think when it comes to decision time, he has his mind made up before he has all the information."
Pastor Mobley has noticed a similar tendency.
"Sometimes he just takes the ball and runs with it because he can," Mobley says. "And that's okay."
Burks' wife Misty sees it from an insider's perspective.
"Being who he is, he has a lot of different opportunities brought to him that probably wouldn't just be brought to the normal guy," she says. "And he's just got the type of brain that can take an idea and take it to the next level. He goes with his gut but he also prays about it and makes sure it's the right way, too."
Mobley gushes about the positive effects Burks has had on the Missoula community, and on its Christian community in particular. He calls the concerts and the bookstore "wholesome" and "edifying."
"You could go on and on and on about how great Michael is," Mobley says. "He's just a great guy. Almost to the point where there's got to be a flaw there somewhere."
Some might take issue with part of Burks' message at the Newsboys show—that the man's role is to pursue Christ, while the woman's role is to pray for him. But not Misty.
"The man is supposed to be the leader of the home," she says. "I firmly believe that. And the women are supposed to lift their husbands up...So praying for him on his walk with God is very, very important."
Burks, despite his oration at Ogren-Allegiance Park, doesn't want to be a preacher. He regrets that the separation-of-church-and-state controversy over the Western Montana Fair launched him into the limelight. In the future he'll leave that role to pastors. "I am a businessman," he says, and he's content to remain one.
"In five or 10 years I hope I'm sitting at this desk, hitting the keyboard, moving some freight, and maybe doing a couple more things in town," Burks says. "I don't see an end. I don't have a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Whatever impact I can make I'll make. And if there's something else that comes up in Missoula or another city that tempts me to make a difference, I'll probably do it."