Christian Book Store Struggles in Internet Culture

Bible and Book Center in Baton Rouge, La., is struggling in the Internet age.

Bible and Book Center in Baton Rouge, La., is struggling in the Internet age.

A Christmas tree is now a "celebration" tree. Christmas parties are "holiday" parties. “Merry Christmas” transformed into “season’s greetings.” And now another Christmas tradition is beginning to fade: in-person holiday shopping.

According to reports, online sales were up as much as 33 percent on Cyber Monday this year, sounding a positive note for the dismal economy. But owners of local stores and boutiques that do not offer online shopping say its boom has had a negative effect on their bottom line.

The Bible and Book Center in Baton Rouge, La., is just one of countless shops that are struggling against the Internet this Christmas. Opened in 1959, the family-owned Christian bookstore is a landmark in the Capitol City. But now this long-established mom-and-pop shop is in danger.

Janet Dearman, the bookstore’s owner, is not only concerned about low sales during the holidays, she says she may have to close up shop altogether.

“We’ve downsized our store from 9,000 square feet to 4,000 square feet in the past few years,” Dearman said. “We used to have 15 employees, and now we are down to three.”

The Bible and Book Center has seen a 20 percent decrease in sales this Christmas season, sales Dearman speculates are going to chain bookstores, like Barnes & Noble, and online Christian websites.

Dearman says she has no money for advertising because of a lack of funds in the bookstore’s budget. So in an effort to compete with the appeal of online shopping and to target offline shoppers, she sends email alerts to customers and distributes coupons throughout Baton Rouge and the surrounding area. She also uses free social media, like Facebook, to reach a younger demographic.

Nonetheless, Dearman says, the Bible and Book Center has not experienced any increase in sales. She says she can’t find a way to get Web-savvy customers into her store.

“The Internet is just so easy,” she says.

The store’s customer software system offers an option for customers to shop online, and Dearman says she plans to upgrade the system to offer online shopping in order to keep the business running.

The Bible and Book Center is the only independent Christian bookstore left in Baton Rouge, and this makes Dearman feel a burden for the community.

“It breaks my heart, because we have such a ministry for our customers and that ministry might be taken away,” she says.

Shop owners like Dearman say they are concerned that their cities will soon be decked with “For Sale” or “Closed for Business” signs. There was a time when shoppers stopped in at their stores and rushed home with treasures in hand. But now their customers are often a point-and-click away from sealing the deal without leaving home.

“How do I compete with that?” Dearman says.