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Location, Publicity, Keys to Booktable Success

If any committee is a natural for Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations, it should be the booktable committee. A bookstore, booktable, or bookstall can not only feed the hunger of congregants for UU-related books, but can make it easier for religious education classes and other groups to get the books they need throughout the year.

"It's such an easy committee to be on," says Lynn Jinishian, chair of the booktable committee at the UU Church of Spokane, WA, (363 members). "Especially if you love books."

"The keys to a successful booktable are a highly visible location and lots of publicity," says Jinishian and other booktable chairs. Most congregational bookshops are housed in easily built rolling bookshelves that can be closed up and locked during the week. The ideal location for the bookstore business is next to the coffee drinkers during Sunday morning's social hour. 

Publicity is the other key. At First Parish, Cambridge, MA (200), Joy Pearson always writes a bookstore article for the church newsletter. She also maintains a bulletin board just for bookstore topics. Some managers write book reviews for their local newsletters. 

Pearson also asks leaders of adult education classes to tell her in advance of any books they need and asks the ministers and lay leaders for any titles they plan to mention in their Sunday morning presentations. 

Most bookstores are run as a service to the congregation. Managers warn against expecting large profits. At Horizon UU Church in Carrollton, TX (290), the bookstore brings in about $100 a month, which goes to support the congregation's new library. "The First Unitarian Society in Stockton, CA (194), earns about $1,000 a year, which goes into the society's operating fund," says Jeri Bigbee, bookstore manager. The store sells not only books, but also UU jewelry, bumper stickers, CDs, and cassettes.

Bigbee has noticed another benefit of the bookstore besides the sale of books. It's a convenient refuge for shy visitors. "The new people who are not quite ready to engage in conversation at coffee hour are very attracted to the bookstore," she says. "There they can check out the church over the top of a book until they're ready to mingle. For these people, be sure to keep church literature on hand in the bookstore as well as at the new member table," she notes.

Answers to frequently asked questions about starting a bookstore:

  • Orders from the Unitarian Universalist Assocation (UUA) Bookstore can be pre-paid with check, Visa, or Mastercard, or the bookstore will bill your church bookstore account. Prepayment earns a discount on shipping charges.
  • Books that do not sell may be returned to the UUA Bookstore at any time for credit on your account if they are in new condition.

"Finding booktable volunteers hasn't been a problem," says Bigbee. "People think it's so cool we're doing this. They want to help. It doesn't take a lot of effort and it's fun."

There's a one year learning curve, she notes, to find out who the suppliers are and what to order and then to recruit and organize volunteers. She estimates that she spends three to four hours a week apart from Sundays on making the bookstore work.

Resources

For information about starting a booktable or bookshop, contact the UUA Bookstore at 617-948-6102 or bookstore [at] uua [dot] org. Church bookstores receive discounts of 10 percent or more on titles from Beacon Press and Skinner House Books, two main sources of books on UU topics.

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

For more information contact interconnections@uua.org.

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