After 54 years in business, the Bible & Book Center on Government Street will shut down Saturday, the victim of the same challenges that independent bookstores face across the U.S.
Janet Dearman, whose parents, Jim and Billie Sykora, took over the religious bookstore in 1980, said the Bible & Book Center is closing because of competition from online retailers, national chains and big-box stores.
Dearman said big-box retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Target, can sell books to shoppers for less than it costs the Bible & Book Center to buy them. “And you can go in those stores and buy something at 10 p.m.,” she said.
Jim Sykora died in 2002, but Billie Sykora has remained active with the business up until its closing.
The last eight to 10 years at the Bible & Book Center had been a struggle, Dearman said. Over that period, the number of employees shrank from about 15 to just a few part-time college students. After Hurricane Gustav hit in 2008, things got worse.
“We were closed for a week and had no income coming in,” she said.
The Bible & Book Center was started by the Rev. Jack and Juno Moore. The Moores were active members of First Baptist Church downtown. The Bible & Book Center was the first Christian bookstore in the city, selling religious books and all of the supplies needed for a church.
The Moores founded the store to meet the needs of black churches. Dearman said black congregations made up about 75 percent of the Bible & Book Center’s business.
“What they had in their particular business far exceeded any other religious bookstore in town,” said Liz Walker, a former president of the Mid City Merchants Association. “They went the gamut. They had records, music, artwork; they even had an area upstairs for church services at one point.”
Walker, who owns The Elizabethan Gallery on Jefferson Highway, said she would get spillover business from people who went to the Bible & Book Center looking for art and were then directed to her business.
“It’s hard to imagine with how religious Baton Rouge is that we can’t sustain a business like that,” Walker said. “They sold crosses like you give to children when they make their First Communion. Where are you going to find those things now? You’re not going to get them at JCPenney.”
What will happen to the building that housed the Bible & Book Center is unknown. Sykora sold the property earlier this week for $375,000 to a group that includes former LSU basketball star Tyrus Thomas.
“That’s a big building, with a big presence right on Government Street,” Walker said.
The owners of the Bible & Book Center aren’t sure what they will do either. Sykora, 81, plans to retire. Dearman said she has yet to determine her next move, but she has an interest in interior design and event planning.
Although the closure of the business was tough, there is one bright spot. About 200 to 300 people who attend The Chapel on the Campus, where Sykora and Dearman are members, got together at the bookstore Thursday night to share their memories of the bookstore.
“We were touched by this,” Sykora said. “We heard from longtime customers about how we helped them through the ups and downs of their lives.”