Great Christian bookstores share a secret. They are far more than a local commercial establishment that happens to sell Christian books. In many cases they are the hub of the Christian community and a significant connecting point for people and ideas. Just stop into your local independent Christian store and listen to the conversations taking place and you might be surprised. People are not only looking for great books to read, they are seeking information and relationships. What better place to discover a new book club, a new support group or a new worship experience than in your favorite Christian bookstore.
I discovered this reality one day many years ago when I first started working as a front line retail associate. I was helping a customer at the counter when I saw a women walk in the front door. She stood in the entrance way for a moment and appeared to be looking around to get her bearings. All of a sudden she let out a shriek and went running down the main aisle of the store. At the back of the store another women was now running towards the front and they met somewhere in the middle in the mist of laughter, more shrieks of joy and the excitement of seeing each other again. Apparently they had not seen each other in a long while and this was the place where their paths finally crossed. I am not sure what books they bought that day, but I know one thing for sure, they had an experience they would not soon forget. Time after time, I saw this phenomenon take place. People came in looking for Christian resources, a greeting card or a great new book and walked out with a new or renewed friendship.
Today is Small Business Saturday in America and it is a great way to encourage consumers to shop in their favorite locally owned small businesses and to give a portion of their hard earned dollars to someone other than the big box stores or Amazon.com. This year the ABA (American Booksellers Association) is going one step further and launched the concept of Indies First. The nationwide initiative is designed to get authors to work as volunteers in their favorite local independent bookstore for the day and to hand sell books in a way that only authors who love to read can do. Can you imagine walking into your local Christian bookstore and having Karen Kingsbury or Andy Stanley help you select books for your Christmas wish list. Maybe the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) will get behind this innovative idea in the years to come.
Author Denise Keirnan wrote a great blog post about this Indies First idea and had this to say about her favorite bookstore, “They are arbiters of the joy of reading, not of some preconceived notion of taste. The store is full of discussion, meet-ups, poetry, and the occasional birthday party for 90-year-old regulars. It is a part of the community in a way larger and online competitors cannot be.” All great independent bookstores are like this and often have one more thing in common. They know what’s going on in the community. They gather this information constantly and make it readily available to their regular customers through bulletin boards, Facebook posts, Blogs and most importantly, one on one conversation. As one of my friends used to say, they are gossiping good news and passing on the best information they can about the wonderful events and activities going on right around them
This idea of being a community connecting point is especially vital to Christian bookstores that have struggled to keep customers coming through the doors in recent years. As people rub shoulders with new people, hear about new events and find a unique kinship with those that they shop with, it creates a completely different shopping experience. For some, this will even turn into ministry opportunities. Over the years, I have seen customers praying together, laughing and crying together – all on the same day and in the same conversation. Christian bookstores can truly be a “third place” where real community building and relationship development takes place. To create and sustain stores like this, we need to make every day Small Business Saturday for our favorite local Christian stores.