I had some last minute Christmas shopping to do on December 24, 2018 so I drove down to Dallastown, Pennsylvania (about a 40-minute drive) to visit Byron and Beth Borger at Hearts & Minds Bookstore. Beth was not around on this day, but Byron quickly emerged from the back of the store sporting a festive green dress shirt and a red flannel tie. After exchanging pleasantries, we got down to work.
- I wanted a thoughtful and liturgical devotional for my wife, Joy. Byron introduced me to Frederick Schumacher’s For All the Saints: A Prayer Book for and By the Church. I bought it.
- I wanted a book on vocation and calling for my youngest daughter. When I asked Byron for the best book on the subject he pulled a copy of Os Guinness’s The Call off the shelf. I bought it.
- This same daughter is thinking seriously about pursuing environmental studies in college and I wanted a nice Christian primer on creation care. Byron recommended Matthew Sleeth’s Serving God, Saving the Planet: A Call for Creation and Your Soul. I bought it.
- I wanted to buy a Wendell Berry novel for my older daughter. Byron has an entire section on Berry’s fiction and non-fiction. I bought her a copy of Hannah Coulter.
By the way, you can buy all these books from Beth and Byron at Hearts & Minds. Just send him an e-mail and he will get them into your hands as soon as possible.
After I was done with my gift-shopping, I did some shopping for myself and spent a few hundred bucks on new hardbacks. Byron coached me through every selection. He recommended philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff’s memoir. I finished it last week and it did not disappoint. He tentatively suggested literary scholar Anthony Esolen’s Nostalgia, but warned me that it was very conservative. He was right. I liked about a third of it. Byron provided a narrative for every book I bought that day (and some that I didn’t buy). I left encouraged, inspired, and intellectually satisfied.
A couple of weeks ago I got a call from Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans, a freelance religion reporter who I have worked with in the past. She told me that Hearts & Minds was not doing very well financially and that she was working on a story about it. I talked to her for about thirty minutes. Her piece appeared at Religion News Service today. Here is a taste:
The first book that Byron and Beth Borger sold at the Hearts & Minds bookstore was a copy of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.”
For the Borgers, it was a perfect fit.
But their customer was a bit perplexed since the book isn’t standard fare at Christian bookshops.
“The first customer asked, ‘What kind of bookstore carries Les Mis?’” said Byron Borger. “We said, ‘What kind of bookstore doesn’t?’”
Hearts & Minds has long been an anomaly in the world of Christian retail.
The Borgers, who previously worked for a Christian campus ministry group, launched their Dallastown store during the faith-based-bookstore boom times of the 1980s. They bucked evangelical conventions by including Catholic writers such as Thomas Merton, tackling topics like racial justice and featuring books by spiritual formation proponent Richard Foster, whose take on the Christian life was considered radical.
Back in the day, they faced boycotts, pickets and even death threats from the Ku Klux Klan over a display of books from Martin Luther King Jr., said Byron Borger. The store survived them all — and thrived for years, attracting fans among customers and authors.
Contemporary challenges are different — and perhaps more threatening.
With ongoing demise of Christian retail stores, consolidation in the Christian publishing industry and the continued dominance of online sellers such as Amazon, the future of this idiosyncratic venture is uncertain.
In recent years, the Borgers have cut back on staff and dipped into their savings to keep the story going.
“I’m not embarrassed to say that we have not been doing well,” said Borger. “We have not been self-sustaining.”
Despite the struggles, Hearts & Minds has a loyal following, readers who appreciate the couple’s wide-ranging knowledge of the Christian book scene.
The store appeals to mainline Protestants and what Beth Borger refers to as “thinking evangelicals” — Christians with traditional beliefs about theology whose faith prompts them to care about injustice. There are more than a few in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions, where Hearts & Minds draws most of its support, said Beth Borger.
Read the rest here. And then start buying some books from Hearts & Minds.
Here are some pics: