Readers of this Pilgrim Scribblings blog know how strongly I advocate for local Christian bookstores. Being a former Christian bookstore owner, before WalMart, Costco, CBD, Amazon, Chapters, Indigo, etc. began stealing business away, I know the struggles involved in keeping a bookstore open.
Several days ago I posted a review of Chris Tomlin's latest CD release, written by my friend Paul Wilkinson. In his review he encouraged his readers to buy an "actual CD" of this product. That's what I did today. I dropped by our local Christian bookstore, Emmaus Family Books, here in Peterborough and bought the CD. No downloading. No stealing. I've got the "actual CD" now. In fact it was ON SALE. Regularly $17.99. I got it for $13.99. YOU CAN TOO! Just pop in to Emmaus in the Market Plaza in Peterborough.
But I degress...
Paul Wilkinson has written an excellent post on the demise of Christian bookstores. His own stores could be in danger. All independently owned Christian bookstores are struggling...at least here in Canada...unless the owners are wealthy. Paul writes from his heart as he always does on his blog Thinking Out Loud.
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?”