‘Place of kindness’ shows Christ to community.
Only two CDs are on sale at The Rock Christian Bookstore and Bistro in downtown Sheffield, Alabama, an indicator of the slightly unconventional inventory approach that, almost counter-intuitively, has helped the young business secure a foothold in the community.
One of them is the only collection of gospel songs recorded by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Percy “When a Man Loves a Woman” Sledge, who came from the area and at one time worked at the local hospital.
“He was a local native,” says store manager Luke Stokes. “Everybody knew him, but most people don’t realize he had a gospel CD.”
The other recording available at the store is by a local Christian artist, and The Rock plans to add a few more in the days ahead from area musicians it showcases in its live events. But unless there’s a strong local connection, that’s it.
If that limited music selection seems unusual, then so is the store’s book department. The bulk of it comprises classic Christian titles from such heavyweight names as John Calvin, John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, and Jonathan Edwards. Featured contemporary authors like John MacArthur and John Piper further hint at the store’s conservative emphasis.
“We’re not a cookie-cutter Christian store,” acknowledges co-owner Laquita Logan, who opened The Rock with her husband, Rodney, in 2016. “I’m really firm in how I believe and I know that other people don’t believe exactly like me, and that’s fine,” she adds. “I would never push my beliefs on anyone, but I am not going to carry any nonsense.”
The store’s selection—curated by a local pastor who works there a few days a week—has proved a particular hit with other ministers, who can find books they previously had to search for online. They’re also offered a 25 percent discount. “It may not all be all new or the latest and greatest, but there’s a market there,” says Stokes. “It’s not as big of a market, possibly, but there is a need.”
The meaty offerings are in keeping with the feel of the store, a sort of cross between a study, with chairs for people to sit in and read, and a trendy coffee bar. The renovated old building features bare brick walls and wooden floors, with a separate rear room, The Monastery, that can accommodate 40 or so people for private meetings. It has been used by Bible study groups, businesses, and home school parents, as well as for in-service training days for local teachers. The space is free during regular business times, with a small service charge for after-hours use.
Making the room available means that “often we’ll have people who are getting exposed to the store for the first time,” says Stokes. “They’ll walk around and look at what’s on the shelves before or after the meeting. One woman recently spent probably $80 because she saw a couple of books she wanted.”
There’s more than solid doctrine on offer. While one wall is filled with books, the other carries children’s products—books and Bibles, and Melissa and Doug items—and gifts and cards appealing to general shoppers. Original oils by a local artist are also available.
And then there’s the coffee bar and cafe, offering popular local Lyons roast, and a range of sandwiches and salads. Ice creams have recently been added to the list. Customers can sit inside or outside in the patio area between the store and Rhoda P’s Restaurant and Catering next door. The outdoor seating area shared by the two businesses, complete with a fountain, has been dubbed Rock and Rhoda’s and has hosted an outdoor wedding, with the reception held inside The Rock.
The store shares its building with another of the Logans’ downtown business ventures, Salon 310, where individual stylists can rent space. The entrepreneurial Logans also have a clothing and hardware store in the town, with plans for a restaurant—all part of their effort to help rejuvenate this part of the Quad Cities.
The Rock is the most important project, she says, “because you get an opportunity to spread God’s Word, you get an opportunity to meet people, and you get an opportunity to share, and that’s what it’s all about.”
As part of that ministry emphasis, The Rock will feed people for free if they’re down on their luck. “Sometimes people come in and say they have no money and, well, who are we to say you can’t have anything to eat,” says Logan. “What’s most important is for the community to see Christ, and how can they do that; a place where you can see kindness.”
While focused on building up the local community, the store also gets to welcome visitors. It’s not far from Sheffield’s famed former Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, which in its day drew artists like The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, and Rod Stewart, and now attracts tourists, some of whom find their way to The Rock.
With a degree in public communications and four years previously at a Christian retail chain, Stokes recognizes social media as an important marketing tool. “The main thing is that you have to be consistent with it,” he says. “If you’re only going to post every week or two, a lot of people are not going to engage with you.” At the same time, he’s careful not to over-post, “when you end up getting on people’s nerves.”
He’s also found it helps to post in ways that encourage followers to interact somehow, rather than just featuring new products—which he recommends twinning with some kind of a special deal. “When someone responds, their friends will see that they’ve commented,” he says. “The old way of advertising was putting a flier on somebody’s car window, but you had to go and place all those fliers. But now with social media, it’s like you place one flier and let everybody else distribute it for you.”
Photos of in-store events help promote it as a happening place, he notes: “If you can get people involved it’s good because it’s like a personal testimony from those people, that they found it worth their time to come visit the store.” Just be sure to get people’s permission to post their image, he advises.
The Rock offers free engraving for Bibles bought there and charges just $5 for shoppers who bring them in from elsewhere. It’s part of an emphasis on good customer service, which Stokes says is essential, “You can have the best prizes and the best products, but if you don’t have good customer service you’re still going to lose,” he observes.
On the other hand, take care of people well, he notes, and they are often willing “to spend a little more money if they get good customer service, and for the personal experience.”
Though The Rock is on a solid footing, Logan and her husband are “not going to make a lot of money at this,” she recognizes. “It is about giving back to the community,” she says of their rejuvenation efforts, which follow retirement from running several pharmacies in the area. “We want The Rock to be where people know they can come and hear the truth, and what is the truth? Jesus Christ, so we need to glorify him, not man; that is so important.
“Some people might say that we don’t have this or that,” she adds. “OK, that doesn’t matter. I would much rather fill the store with truth than nonsense, things that are not biblically true. With everything that you do, you have to give God the glory for what happened, and that is what we do.”