I turned the corner and saw it and it nearly took my breath away. There were books everywhere and on so many different topics. It looked like someone had taken an entire Christian bookstore and transported it to the Pittsburgh Convention Center. As a bookseller myself, I could only imagine how much work it must have taken to transport these books and to display them for sale. No matter, I had found it and like a kid in a candy store I began browsing the merchandise. Who needs Disneyland anyway when I had found this.
This wonderful bookstore had been curated, transported and set up by a friend and fellow book lover, Byron Borger. His bookstore, Hearts and Minds, located in Dallastown, PA is nearly legend in my world and I have been meaning to visit for a long time. Now I got to experience it first hand at the Jubilee Conference. His reputation had proceeded him and I was not disappointed. In fact, I was overwhelmed with the variety and selection he made available. Like many of the students at the conference, I was not even aware that there were Christian books available on some of the topics he featured. He must have had over 100 different topical options including books on faith and the arts, faith and vocation, faith and the sciences and on and on. It was simply amazing.
The Jubilee Conference is sponsored by the Coalition for Christian Outreach (The CCO) which is a large campus ministry organization that began in Pittsburgh in 1971 and now has 261 staff members on 116 campuses in the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West. Byron served with the CCO doing campus ministry prior to starting his bookstore and had been integrally involved with the Jubilee Conference for many years. The conference brings together students from these campuses and their campus ministers for a weekend of training, worship, and fellowship – and some book buying. As I discovered, Byron made book buying such an important part of the conference you couldn’t help but buy books as he clearly made the point that reading Christian books is a vital part of Christian maturing and discipleship.
Before each main session during the weekend, the host on the main stage invited Byron up to discuss books. You could feel the passion for reading oozing out of him as he talked and you could also sense a buzz in the room as thousands of students listened to what he had to say and considered what books they were going to buy. His talk always included a slide with the book covers for people to see and he typically mentioned at least five books per session. In all, he must have promoted over twenty to twenty-five separate books in just two days. I have never seen anything like it and I realized I had a lot to learn about effective book promotion.
So what was the result of all this. Throughout the weekend, hundreds of students visited the bookstore, browsed and bought books. In talking with some of them, I quickly came to understand that they saw this a spiritual investment, not a commercial transaction. Even though the books were only discounted 10%, I hardly heard anyone complaining about prices. Instead, I heard many people exclaiming that they could not get over the vast selection and wished they had a bookstore like this in their town. For many that will mean taking a trek to Dallastown as there are not too many stores quite like Hearts and Minds.
With the news breaking this week of the liquidation of the Family Christian Store Chain and 240 Christian bookstores closing around the country, I could not help but wonder if this is the time when that just might be possible. Could Christians entrepreneurs around the country rise up and consider opening new Christian bookstores just like Hearts and Minds? Could the Christian bookselling industry follow in the footsteps of the secular bookstore industry when the Borders chain closed? Will this be our Independents Day?