Monday, May 30, 2011

Christian Bookshops in Pennsylvania

Books and Regionalism

"You are what you eat" is a common, perhaps overused expression. But the same phrase is rightly adapted to books: "You are what you read." The last time I was in Pennsylvania, a year ago, I came across a "Bible Outlet" in Lancaster, PA, which I then wrote about on this blog. So it is no surprise that I'd come across similar shops that sold Bibles, or Bible-related books, or Christian books on a recent trip through Pennsylvania. In fact, the interesting sociological observation here is that bookstores will echo what the reading tastes are of a certain area, and ultimately reflect the larger religious (or secular) demographics of a region. This is why you'll come across almost no major bookstore chains or even book shops specializing in antiquities, rare books, or more broadly literary style shops in more rural areas. But equally, you will find almost no Christian bookshops in NYC.

A month ago, while I was doing a research trip in Pennsylvania to gather archival evidence for an article I was writing on the history of theological education in 19th century America, I drove through some small towns in southern and western Pennsylvania. Somewhere between Butler and Zelienople, PA, I drove through a small place called Evans City, which had a very nice Christian book shop called "Amazing Grace," which appeared to double as a mission center. The last time I'd seen something similar to this was two summers ago when I visited a Christian book store in the suburbs of Chicago called Royal Christian Bookstores (read the post).

A few days later, I found myself stopping in the fine town of Somerset after a rain storm. I drove around briefly and found this unassuming shop, a combo "Christian Book Store and Office Supply." I think you could put any two businesses together and do well, if you sold Bibles or other Christian literature in some areas. My guess is that Bibles sell better than coffee here. Unfortunately, the shop was closed when I stopped, so I didn't get a chance to go in.

On my way out of town, I snapped a photo of the old courthouse. I must say that many of the county seats and larger towns in Pennsylvania had lovely old architecture, which must have bloomed in the mid-to-late 19th century under the gaze of its German and other immigrants. The design is quite formidable, and especially striking when approached from a distance. The contrast of the blue or even clouded sky against such proud edifices set up on the highest hills are quite stunning. Onward now!--to other places, other books. These curiosities prove again the subtle experiment of American reading, set against tilled farm fields, old wood houses, and noble state houses.

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