One day recently, I opened the door to a most unexpected surprise. In a little town in Maine, I found a crowded bookstore on Main Street. As if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, as I entered the store, I was greeted by the owner’s Black Labrador retriever. This dog was obviously a hit with many of the customers, especially the kids. After being delighted to see how many people were in the store in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, I began to look around.
The store was filled with books of all types; far more books than I normally see in bookstores that size these days. Contrary to the recommendations of many booksellers, this store had many of the books sitting on the shelf spine out simply to make space. The store would best be described as having an eclectic appearance and some might even say a little on the worn down side. The floors sloped oddly, with shelves that were arranged in interesting ways making for quite an exploratory experience. You never knew what was going to be around the next corner.
As I was looking at the various book sections, I could not help overhearing the customers and the folks at the front counter talking. They really seemed to want to talk about books, life and the joy of reading. The owner, Justin, happened to be in the store on the day that I was walking around and was just as interesting at the store itself. When I first came in, he was eating his lunch behind the counter while serving customers and seemed to jump from one conversation to the next. He clearly knew his customers and really knew his books. When a grandfather came in with his grandkids looking for some summer reading suggestions, Justin went to the youth fiction section and made suggestions that the kids liked that even sounded interesting to an adult.
This quirky little bookstore has obviously made a difference in the community. It has been around for twenty years this year and is still going strong. Justin clearly loves what he is doing and it shows. His book selection is highly personal and eclectic and his customers love him for it. They keep coming back to see what he is talking about, featuring or just putting on the shelf. Based on the conversations taking place in the store, you could sense the pulse of the town and that if you wanted to know what was going on locally; all you had to do was make a visit to Bridgton Books.
In an age of digital books and big box retail, this store was a throw back and it is thriving. People today want the personal recommendations of a book reader more than ever when making a book buying choice. There is so much hype, promotion and clutter on the internet, that getting an authentic suggestion about a great book from someone who has actually read it is a breath of fresh air. Interestingly, after many years of decline, the independent bookstore is making something of a comeback. The American Booksellers Association recently reported that independent bookstores have been growing for the last four years and that 2012 sales were up 8% over 2011.
This reality is something that should challenge the independent Christian retailing community that has continued to decline even while secular stores are growing again. Maybe this is a “Carpe Diem” moment for the Christian community to embrace their local Christian bookstore once again and for booklovers who are also keen business people to get into the business for the first time. While the difficulties of running a Christian bookstore are numerous and the competition is real, it seems like now is time for an investment in the future of independent Christian retail and not a time to keep pulling back and closing stores. May God cause a new generation of Christian book lovers to become the next generation of Christian booksellers.