Life happens so fast for many of us that the critical turning points are often seen in our rear view mirror. We look back and recognize moments when things changed in ways that affected our life deeply and significantly. For me those moments include the day I met my wife, both of the days that my sons were born and the day that we joined CLC in 1996. I had no real idea when I joined CLC that I would be involved in working in and managing Christian bookstores for the next 14 years. My how time flies.
Tomorrow, I begin the next leg of my journey here at CLC as I hand off the day to day responsibilities for our 9 Christian bookstores to my colleague and friend Jim Pitman. I will now shift my focus to the day to day leadership of our publishing house and continue as the Director of our overall US based ministry. In thinking about these past 14 years, I have much to rejoice in and to thank the Lord for – so many stories to tell that I often think I could have written a book about the strange things that sometimes happen in a Christian bookstore.
There was the time that a customer came in looking for a Bible and asked me if we had the HIV version. Not being too quick on my feet that day, I thought maybe she was looking for a 12 step Bible until I realized that all she really wanted was the NIV version. Then there was the time a person came in looking for an expository Bible study, but actually asked me for a suppository. The strangest thing I think I was ever asked for was a statue of Buddha.
When I started working at our store in Chestnut Hill in 1996, things were a lot simpler. We had one cash register, no automated inventory management system (we used microfiche to look up product availability) and one third of the floor space that we now have in the same store. All our Bibles were behind the counter and we had to pull them off the shelf to show the customer if they wanted to look at it before they bought it. We didn’t offer Sunday school materials or church supply products and still sold cassettes – lots of them.
Through the years, I was blessed to see our stores grow and I fondly remember many of the crazy events we held during the boom years of the late 90’s and early 2000s. The most memorable of these for me was the midnight release of Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation Project when he actually showed up in our store at 1AM in the morning to surprise us. Following that event, we had many national gospel artists perform in the store and sign their new projects on street date including the incomparable Cece Winans. We participated in all of the blockbuster national new releases like the Left Behind series, The Prayer of Jabez, and of course The Purpose Driven Life (selling 900 copies to one church).
In more recent years, we have had the privilege of partnering with key churches and now have 5 of our bookstores in these vibrant locations. So much has changed. All of our non church stores are automated and we sell both church supplies and Sunday school materials to hundreds of churches in the community. The day of the Christian blockbuster in secular locations seems to now be a thing of the past (though it may happen again), CDs continue to sell but in smaller quantities each year and e-books are the hot topic of discussion. The biggest change I witnessed in these years however was the increasing competition from the internet, particularly Amazon and CDB and the shrinking number of Christian bookstores in our communities as a result.
As we prepare to head into a new decade of service through our retail stores, I am excited about the ideas, passion and energy that Jim brings to the task ahead. One thing I know for sure, things will continue to change as they always have and we will have to adapt. I look forward to working more closely with our authors in helping them to shape their ideas, stories and messages for a new generation of readers in print and digital formats. The challenges that lie ahead seem bigger than ever, but looking back, I know that I serve a God who is capable of miracles and has done them time and time again in the history of CLC. With that in mind, I look forward to seeing what He will do in the next 14 years to come.