We’re Not Your Average Christian Bookstore

Roger Olson recently made this comment:

“Go to any Christian (or secular) bookstore and look for the section marked ‘theology.’  It probably doesn’t exist.  I’ve been alive long enough to remember when EVERY Christian bookstore had a fairly large section labeled either ‘theology’ or ‘doctrine.'”

I think Olson’s comment is right.  So let me just take a minute and show what our “theology” category looks like.  We are definitely an exception. 

We have 80 feet of shelving devoted to the category and at my last inventory count we have over 500 different titles.  

Why Your Christian Bookstore May Not Be Able to Do This.

 Now let me come to the defense of those stores which don’t (and probably can’t) maintain this kind of inventory.  The industry average for the number of times a book should sell in a year is four.  That is to say if a book doesn’t sell at least four times a year it’s not profitable to keep it in stock.  To be sure my theology category is filled with books which only sell once or twice a year.  It is the rest of the store that carries me and it is only because of the popular trade, fiction, music, and, yes, even gifts that allow me to keep a well-stocked theology section (not to mention an equally large section devoted to Old Testament Commentaries, New Testament Commentaries and Biblical Studies sections).  If the store had to depend on my categories alone to run the store we would be out of business by the end of the year (okay maybe next year).  I have customers every week say they wish they had a store like ours where they live.  Well, truth be told they probably did at one time (Olson says he remembers when every store had a large theology section) but it could not sustain itself with the customer base they had.  (It helps that we have a few seminaries and many, many churches which are vital to our health.)    While my department does as well as can be expected I see many customers come in with a list of books, look at them, and then tell me they are going to buy them from Amazon.  I understand every penny counts but they could at least buy one book from us as a way of saying thank you for being there for them.  (And for spending 20 minutes answering their questions.)  Everyday I hear stories from people who visited a Christian bookstore and tell me they had a hard time finding “real” books.  Many Christian bookstores are devoting most of their floor space to fiction and gifts because that’s what they have to do in order to stay alive.  So try not to be too hard on them.  They’re trying, but they have to do what they do to keep the doors open.  The industry as a whole is going through a difficult time and far too many Christian bookstores have had to close their doors.  The next time you’re in your local Christian bookstore (if you have one) take some time to thank them for being there and if the spirit is willing and the wallet isn’t too weak maybe you could pick something up while you’re there.  I know they would appreciate it.  And if you’re ever in Grand Rapids please stop in and give us a visit.  I guarantee you won’t have any trouble finding books.

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11 thoughts on “We’re Not Your Average Christian Bookstore

  1. I rarely go into a Christian bookstore unless it is on a seminary campus. With sites like Amazon, I don’t even go into seminary bookstores much anymore. Good to see a store with such a robust selection!

  2. That is a thing of beauty! I really need to make it out to Grand Rapids one of these days and pay you guys a visit!

  3. Baker is an academic heaven on earth. I miss working there every day.

  4. Thanks for the compliments! As for Esteban, well . . . we miss you too.

  5. Great post, Louis. I wouldn’t limit the closings to just Christian Book Stores though. I’ve been hearing about seminary stores struggling to compete with online sales and being forced to close, or at least drop half their inventory.

  6. Pingback: Links Worth Clicking: Gabe Lyons today on Fox News and more « EngagingChurch

  7. So what came first? Did Christians start buying less robust reading material, so the Christian merchandise industry had to fill in with fiction and gifts; or did the merchandise industry start coming out with fiction and gifts and therefore Christians stopped buying good reading material? Or a third option?

  8. I think this might have given me a new perspective on why Family Christian Book Stores does not have any solid books. Still disappointing but I think I get it now.

  9. I live about 45mins. awat from Grand Rapids. The distance is not to long to drive when I think of the friendships that have found me at Baker. Some of them are employees at Baker. These God given relationships are worth every extra penny I might have saved from free shipping. The triune God is pleased to see His saints networking in the land. There are countless blessings awaiting you at places like Baker Book House.
    SDG

  10. Great bookstores are tough to find, especially if they have knowledgeable staff. Out West one of the best is Evangelical Bible Bookstore in San Diego, CA. John Cully and his crew handle Puritan volumes, Reformed books, and are incredibly knowledgeable about the Bible and Theology. They leave the t-shirts and trinkets to the other stores. Check out their selection at http://www.ebiblebookstore.com, I know this was about Baker, but that store is a long ways from here.

  11. I am not near Grand Rapids – but perhaps maybe you can make a website so those of us that were interested could purchase from you? I now understand about Family Christian Book Store also.

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