Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Will My Christian Bookstore Always Be There?

If you look up “Christian bookstore” in the dictionary, you might find “endangered establishment” as one of the resulting definitions. As a Christian consumer, when was the last time you visited a Christian bookstore? Do you even know if you have a local Christian bookstore? Have you made a purchase there recently? Do you take it as a given that your Christian store “will always be there?” These are all thoughts that might go through a Christian consumer’s minds whenever “Store Closing” is posted on the door of their local Christian bookstore.
Having managed a Christian bookstore that became a casualty of the sluggish economy, I can tell you that my patrons were pondering those questions and were shocked when my Christian bookstore had to close its doors. Given our current economic state, it has become more difficult for the smaller stores to compete with the larger chain stores. With the success (and large numbers) of big box retailers, either actual bookstores or “one-stop-shop” formats, it has become an increasingly uphill battle for Christian bookstores to thrive and remain in business. That said, are you aware of the services and benefits that a “Christian” bookstore provides? Based upon my experience working in Christian retail, I will examine exactly what a Christian bookstore does for the Christian consumer compared to other types of stores.
The Carpenter’s Son Christian Bookstore has been closed for over a year now. It wasn’t until after the store closed that I really began seeing the impact of its closing when there was a void in its place. Regardless of the type of store I was managing, being in the position of “store manager” always kept me in a role of meeting, greeting, and making connections with customers (both new and “established”). Working in both secular and Christian retail, I have established a unique perspective into both, how they differ, and how they compete against each other. From that viewpoint, I have generated several reasons why Christians need Christian bookstores to remain open for business and stay afloat in this economy.
Christian bookstores provide a safe environment for you and your family to shop in. Let’s face it, going through the checkout line at a grocery store or big box retail store is not as safe for your eyes as it once was. Your kids will not be asking embarrassing questions and pointing to questionable material on the cover of a tabloid magazine. Likewise, men and women will not risk letting those inappropriate images fall into their field of vision and have to set their “modesty filter” to maximum. Christian bookstores are not places where one tends to hear or see inappropriate language, behaviors, or activities.
Most Christian bookstores will have a larger selection of Christian themed books than your average big box retailer or chain store. For example, let’s say you need office supplies and want a good selection to choose from. Which one will have a broader selection: a big box retail store that has lots of items but little variety, or a “specialty” store that that specializes in office supplies. The same analogy can be said of Christian bookstores: you will generally find more of a variety and selection of Christian themed products in a store that specializes in items of a Christian nature.
For those of you who enjoy reading groups, book signings, and networking with other Christians, Christian bookstores can be a hub of such activity. If you are lucky, your local store might even be a place where Christian writers get together to meet. I know the two Christian bookstores that I have managed had all three of these in place. Christian bookstores are just great places to make these types of connections, meet authors, and network with other like-minded individuals. So if you’re an author reading this, connect up with your local store to sign books, network with your fans, and maybe even start a writers group.
Saving the best for last, I want to come to the most important benefit of shopping at a Christian retail bookstore: The STAFF! Think about it, the staff of a Christian bookstore is immersed in the product every day, they are continually getting feedback from customers, and they know what people are buying and can communicate that information to you! Depending on the organization that your Christian bookstore belongs to, many organizations provide the staff with detailed, well-organized, and in-depth product training. Some stores even get visits from sales rep’s that keep the staff informed about sales trends, new products, and industry information (and sometimes free samples). It’s well worth your time to get to know these staff members.
In conclusion, the services provided by Christian bookstores and the shopping environments they generate, cannot be substituted or duplicated by the growing number of secular stores already replacing them. Keeping Christian bookstores in business is a compelling reason for Christian consumers to invest their time, energy, and financial support into their local store. From my own experience, I was always delighted when a customer stopped in to ask, “What fiction books are you recommending today?” I encourage you to reach out and form a connection with your local store. Think of it this way: supporting your Christian bookstore is a future investment into the books you haven’t read yet, and the authors who will write them.
-Darren Kehrer


  1. Very useful post, Darren.

    Actually, my wife and I stopped at a Christian bookstore this past Monday, though it is one of the bigger chains (Lifeway). One nice thing about Lifeway -- it has a small section for local authors.

    (Once when we were there, Becky pointed to the endcap of a shelf where they feature local authors and said my book could be placed there. However, I happened to be on the long side of the same shelf and looked at the heading I saw, which was "Clearance".)

    When I lived in California, I hung out at a handful of Christian bookstores, including Maranatha Village which had a phenomenal music section (including some more local artists).

    One problem facing the Christian bookstores is the same problem facing local newspapers and record stores -- internet availability. Why go to Lifeway or Family Bookstores or your smaller store when you can sit back in your air conditioned (or heated, depending on the time of year) and log on to Amazon?

    Thanks again.


  2. Christian bookstores are great! I often shop in them. But I also love shopping for Christian books and items in "regular" stores and bookstores. I hope both ways can continue somehow. . . :-)

  3. I needed to test the new posting interface, so I redid my last post. I didn't have any issues....

  4. You're absolutely right, Darren. I cherish the Christian bookstore near me (they're so helpful with signings). When the one in my former hometown closed, the entire county mourned.

  5. I hate to throw a wet blanket on the discussion, and trust me, I'm a positive person, but... I have one chain Christian bookstore near me (which shall remain unnamed). The former manager was helpful and informative, but her staff didn't have a good working knowledge of even the most popular Christian authors (Kingsbury, get the idea). I found I knew more than they did, but then again, I'm a more informed consumer than the average reader. Then a new manager came, and when my book released, the door was firmly slammed in my face. "We don't do local author booksignings," I was told. I still shop there, but I honestly think the manager purposely avoids me when he sees me come in the door. It's a real shame. There's a smaller, family-owned Christian bookstore near me. You'd think they'd be my best friends, but they've made it clear that unless I'm published by one of the big CBA houses, they won't feature my books. It's not just that issue, though (but I'll spare you from the details). Darren, I'm so sorry about YOUR store, and it sounded like the "perfect" Christian store. Unfortunately, in my experience where I live now, the Christian stores leave a LOT to be desired. SIGH. Sorry, but that's the way it is.

  6. I have to say that I have seen that to with the "chain bookstores" as the smaller ones know it's in their best interests to do book signings. I have experience managing both, and always tried to push the limit in what my DM would let me do without permission from big brother and all.

  7. It's the smaller stores that do a MUCH better job at it. I won't mention any chain stores here, but I know from experience that they have to run everything by a "higher authority" and are not allowed to do anything on their own. It's very sad, but true. When I managed the Carpenter's Son, we were ALWAYS welcoming author signings as we knew who was writing the books we were selling.

  8. I guess my next post topic should be "Mom and Pop Christian Bookstores vs Chain Christian Bookstore: The Differences." :)

  9. Someone should also do a blog soon on book signings in bookstores. From what I've observed, lots has changed with book signings in recent years, no matter how high up on the author totem pole an author is (with, of course, some exceptions). . . :-)

  10. I am working on an article now "Book Signing From a Store Manager's POV" which will give you some insight onto that side of the equation in order to help you target the right person to get a signing set up.