We’ll Grow into It Together, as a Community

I was 30 years old when I started Archives Bookshop in 1980. I had no idea what I was doing. I think it was a gift from God not to know and then have the opportunity to learn how to do it. Moving to Fuller was also a total surprise.

Just last November, Cokesbury announced it was closing its stores. At the time, it didn’t seem to have anything to do with us. Archives has been on Washington Boulevard  for decades and we have been happy there. But people started coming out of the woodwork suggesting that I should consider moving to Fuller. They seemed to think it was obvious. I was invited by friends, church community members, students, faculty, administrators, and staff—but I just did not see it coming. Again, I think it was good that I didn’t see it.

Then, [Vice President for Finance] John Ward’s executive assistant Tammi Anderson called us to make an appointment with John.  He was so forthcoming that I suddenly thought, “This is one of those opportunities that comes along once in a lifetime, so whether it succeeds or fails, we’ve got to do it.” It’s like trying a suit of clothes on for the first time and it fits perfectly. Or meeting your wife the first time and somehow she just fits. It’s that kind of thing—this just fits. After my initial meeting with John Ward, I woke up in the middle of the night with one idea after the other that we could do if we moved to Fuller.

I have been in the book selling and publishing business for over 30 years. That lifelong experience has equipped me to design a viable bookstore that will continue to be of service to the community—even in the current economic climate.

Primarily because of the Internet, the book business has changed immensely. Several Christian bookstores near us have all closed so that now, there isn’t a place within ten miles of the “largest multidenominational seminary in the world” that even offers a large selection of Bibles. The Archives Bookshop at Fuller will need to become five different bookstores serving our customers at one location: providing for students and faculty who need academic books and textbooks; for regional campus folks who will shop online with us; for members of the community who walk in and browse; for anyone interested in buying once-read theology books; and for libraries who need to add to their collections.

We’ve been a destination bookstore for decades; people come to us for books they cannot find anywhere else. As library consultants we’ve also shipped thousands of volumes to libraries in places like Nigeria and Russia and Indonesia. I’ve been to a lot of places and frankly, I haven’t seen many bookstores with the concentration of theological materials that we have. Keep in mind, there’s a difference between general Christian books and theology books. Theology is a technical discipline just like math or physics. That’s a distinction that I have often made to our customers and to other used booksellers during our time in the book business.

Professors who have taught at Fuller for 20 or 30 years have many of our former books in their libraries. And now I’m getting some of those libraries back from retiring professors. They’ll ask me to come by, maybe they’ll decide to keep some books and get rid of some, sometimes they’ll say just take them and send me a check. We’ve gained a reputation for paying a fair price because we’ve been here so long.

I do everything I possibly can to recycle books. We trade, too, so if someone brings books that are worth $100 to us, we’ll give them the equivalent of $120 or $130 in other books. People do this because they’re getting rid of books they can’t use and gaining books they want. It’s a sweet deal because we know someone else who wants the books that these folks just brought to us. At the heart of all this, for me, is the joy of finding that book someone is looking for and being able to sell it to them. If I didn’t need the money, I’d give them away.

People already come to Coffee by the Books, and we just want to make it as pleasant and as service-oriented as possible. We’ll grow into it together, as a community. We’ll listen to opinions. If a customer suggests that something would be really nice to sell and we hear that over and over again, we’d be foolish not to try it. From the time the idea first surfaced in November to our opening in May will be just over six months. That’s fast. Nevertheless, the way I began in business was by providing books to Fuller students out of my blue van.  I don’t feel like I’m starting something brand new. It’s more of a homecoming.

This story was originally published in September 2013.