Thinking Out Loud

November 16, 2010

Losing a Christian Bookstore, Even in a Small Town, Is Sad

The staff at the Christian bookstore where I hang out several days a week has reason to be concerned.   Christian bookstores have been dropping like flies over the past few years.    For all the reasons you know, plus in Canada, one extra one:  Deflation.

Deflation is what happens to a business when its costs are going up, but the retail price of its products are going down.   It happens in Canada because the retail price of Christian books is indexed to the U.S. price, and the Canadian dollar has been holding its own during a period where the U.S. dollar has been battered on world markets.

So while our brothers and sisters in the U.S. have lost their stores because their economy has been so devastated, the resulting effect on their dollar means stores here have been hit hard because our economy is so strong, relatively.   (Don’t worry if you don’t get that.   I’ve been writing a blog for two years now just for Christian retail store owners, and not all of them fully understand the full ramifications of selling in deflationary times.)

The staff have been cautiously asking questions about the long-term direction of our little set of two stores.    I’ve told them not to be careful in asking questions.   This is a rough time for brick-and-mortar bookstores of all stripes, and every question can be on the table.

But I’m not really sure how to answer their questions.   I feel like God was in this when we established it all those years ago.   I often tell the stories of how God brought our little business into being.   But I don’t always see God at work in the day to day maintenance and ongoing operations of those stores.   There are encouraging moments, but mostly the sense we get is that things are slowly drawing to a close.

There are two reasons for this.

First of all we live in a province — Ontario — that is currently governed at what most of my readers would call the state level by a liberal government that is very, very anti-business.   Especially small business.   There is not enough space in this blog to list all the things that they have ‘undone’ during their time in power.  And are continuing to ‘undo.’   With all due respect to any entrepreneurs reading this who happen to live where I live, you’d have to be nuts to start a small business in the province of Ontario.

Second, one of our stores is located in a town where mathematics has dictated that one local church actually holds the deciding vote on which way our store there will go.   How can I explain this?   Remember a past Presidential election when it all came down to the Electoral College votes from the state of Florida?  Well,  Florida didn’t ask to be in that position.   They didn’t know, going in, that it would all come down to their state’s ballots.   But the mathematics of the situation ended up handing them the final election decision.    In this case, a local church that is ordering many, many, many packages of Christian resources per month online is holding the deciding vote.   And we’ve told them that.  And we’ve told them we’re sorry that the dynamics of the situation has ended up where it is.

A Christian bookstore has a whole lot to offer a local community.   I’m determined not to be another casualty — we even joked a few years back about being the last one standing — but with each passing day we see the proverbial marker writing on the proverbial whiteboard.

The only lighter moment today came from my youngest son:  “So, Dad, is there any way you can get paid to write a blog?”

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4 Comments »

  1. The local Christian bookstores here in Australia struggle and most have closed.
    This started happening when Koorong Books came to Australia – only in capitals and a few major cities, but their catalogues go everywhere. Their mail order service is great and fast and local stores cannot compete with their very reduced prices.

    I remember when the local Christian bookstore was a happy meeting place and a place of encouragement and sharing – but that isn’t part of shopping at Koorong.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — November 17, 2010 @ 1:20 am

  2. It is unfortunate, the impact that large online resellers have, especially on things that have similarity to commodities. I can buy the book anywhere, and it will be the same book, excluding counterfeits of course. So then, what is a local reseller to do? Provide something the online resellers cannot, a sense of community. For me personally, I would be willing to pay more than the steeply discounted online price, but less than the full sticker price, in order to keep a store going.

    Comment by Brian — November 17, 2010 @ 3:21 am

  3. Great post, Paul! I’ve copied it with a few introductory comments over at Pilgrim Scribblings! Keep up the good work…in the store and on the web.

    Blessings!

    David

    Comment by David Fisher — November 17, 2010 @ 9:34 pm

  4. Articles like this are great for discussion purposes! The downside….It should be taking place around a cafe style table in the corner of a Christian bookstore and not over the internet. However, reality is reality, and we understand that we live in an age where quicker is often better, and so why go to a bookstore when I can order a book online while I work on other pressing matters???? Well my answer is this: “I’d go for the experience!” I have taken a perhaps unpopular stance that I will as far as possible support my local business as opposed to driving to the nearest largest centre for my purchases, except for items that could be described as “my personnal hobbies!” And for me, one of those hobbies is reading, and I mean reading real books (I literally hate these electronic readers!). And yes I am under 30 years of age! I live in a town where there is a Coles bookstore, and for the most part I could make my book purchases there, but do I? Absolutley not, instead I drive the 30 minutes to the nearest Chapters store, why? because of the experience. I can literally spend all day in a Chapters, I can browse comfortably, books are well organized, all while inhaling a Venti Vanilla Bean Frappucino that I just purchased in the same location!!!!!!!!!!! This leads me to make another point that again might be seen as unpopular: “Small businesses need to spend big money on the “experience” if they want to see results on the cash register! But Paul, you’ll still get my business for my “Christian” reading material, because quite frankly the big box book stores don’t make recommendations like you do!!!!! Ha! Praying for a prosperous future for you and yours!

    Comment by Sheldon — November 19, 2010 @ 5:11 pm


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