A year ago on Sept. 13, LifeWay Christian Store moved from the University City area of Charlotte to Northlake Mall.
The new prime real estate location reflects the growth of the LifeWay chain. So do the three stores that opened nationally this past year and four more listed on the website as “coming soon.”
But in the age of Amazon, when bookstore giants like Borders have gone bankrupt, how does a brick-and-mortar specialty bookstore thrive?
On-hand advice and products
“At Amazon, you’re left on your own to decide what’s good, but the people who work here can offer advice and suggestions,” said Rob Rose, store manager of LifeWay Northlake. “The workers here love this stuff.”
Besides in-person advice, the store is available for last-minute needs. If a church realizes on Saturday that they have run out of communion cups for Sunday, they can get them right away, as opposed to waiting on shipping. If a Bible study group predicts that 50 will attend and 60 show up, they can pick up the extra study books ASAP.
Ministry opportunities are also available at LifeWay. Customers can give $5 extra at the checkout to buy a Bible for the “My Hope with Billy Graham” video campaign, which will occur nationwide in November.
LifeWay does more than sell books; it actually publishes books through its publishing division, B&H Books.
Beth Moore Bible studies, Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” and the Holman Christian Standard Bible are among its products. LifeWay also owns and operates Ridgecrest Conference Center near Black Mountain.
Since its inception in 1891 as the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, LifeWay has become a corporation with 160-plus stores and 1,500-employees.
The company motto is: “Biblical solutions to life.”
The official name is LifeWay Christian Store, not just bookstore, and its offerings include an array of lifestyle items, such as jewelry, T-shirts, sheet music, church supplies, CDs, videos and knick-knacks.
The items offered at the stores are carefully monitored for content. In June 2012, the movie “The Blind Side” was removed from the LifeWay shelves in response to a resolution proposed by a Southern Baptist pastor in Florida who disapproved of the movie’s profanity.
Some Christians take issue with LifeWay’s gatekeeping.
Rachel Held Evans, author of “Evolving in Monkey Town” writes in her blog that she worries about Christian books being reduced to “comfortable, sanitized stories.”
In Break Point Commentaries, Eric Metaxas, author of “Deitrich Bonhoeffer,” wonders if such filtering creates a “cultural and religious ghetto.”
But many LifeWay customers like the G-rated selection.
“Browsers like that the books and music are family-friendly,” Rose says.
Bob and Larry
One other distinctive this brick-and-mortar store offers that Amazon can’t: Bob and Larry live.
Yes, on Oct. 12, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber of “Veggie Tales” will appear in person to celebrate the Northlake store’s one-year anniversary, as they did when the store opened.
Kids, parents and vegetables will gather together in a way that could never happen online.