Downtown: Concord bookstore closing after 35 years

  • Mark and Jane Cheeseman stand at the counter of Parable Bible Bookstore. The store will be closing at the end of March. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff

  • Mark Cheeseman describes some of the wares in his specialty bookstore, Parable Bible Bookstore, on March 9, 2019. The store is closing after 35 years in Concord. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Mark Cheeseman and his wife Jane (left) pray with Rochester Church of God officials Patty Dyler and the Rev. Wayne Nelson (right) at Parable Bible Bookstore in Concord on March 8, 2019. Nelson said he has been driving 35 miles periodically to visit the bookstore, which is closing at the end of this month. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Bibles on display at Parable Bible Bookstore in Concord are shown on March 8, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • The Parable Bible Bookstore in Concord will be closing at the end of March due to lackluster sales caused by competition from the Internet, according to its owners. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

Published: 3/10/2019 6:21:27 PM

For 35 years, a small bookstore tucked behind a screen of trees on Manchester Street catered to Christians of all stripes.

But at the end of March, Parable Bible Bookstore will close. Years of competing with a faster, cheaper seller known as the internet have finally taken their toll, owner Mark Cheeseman said. He estimated sales have declined by 33 percent in recent years.

Parable’s impending departure is significant for Concord, a community with at least 10 churches of various Christian denominations. After he closes down, Cheeseman said the only Christian specialty bookstore will be in Nashua.

“We’ve served every denomination you can imagine,” he said. “...We have built some great relationships with those pastors and churches. There’s been a lot of close friendships built here, obviously, which you cannot get online.”

It’s certainly no secret that bookstores have struggled to survive in the digital age, with big chains going bankrupt left and right as Amazon has taken up more and more of the market.

Independent bookstores have faced a similar struggle, but various reports have said the industry enjoyed a sort of renaissance a few years ago.

That has been, in part, attributed to a combination of a vacuum being created when a big bookseller leaves and an indie store’s willingness to branch out into community events and garner favoritism on internet platforms.

But there’s also been a shift toward secularism in at least some parts of New Hampshire. A Gallup poll in 2015 showed that only 20 percent of Granite Staters considered themselves “very religious.”

Declining membership shuttered two of Concord’s iconic churches in the last four years. Christ the King Parish’s Sacred Heart church on Pleasant Street has been converted into condos; another of the parish’s churches, St. Peter’s, closed last year and is supposed to be torn down to make way for housing as well.

But Jane Cheeseman isn’t so sure that a shift toward secularism is part of the problem. There are plenty of new churches coming in, she said, although you might not notice them – they may share space with a church, or be housed in a nontraditional building.

And Mark Cheeseman said his clientele extends beyond the Capital City; many of his customers are centrally located churches, but people also drive for miles to visit the “destination” store.

No, he’s putting the blame squarely on Amazon.

“Amazon at one time said their first goal was to take out bookstores, and they’ve done a pretty good job of that,” he said. “Approximately 50 percent of Christian bookstores across the country, and now maybe even more of that, and a lot of the general market stores, have been taken out.”

For Cheeseman, delivering the Good Word through literature is an extension of his own faith; he attended seminary and has worked in various Christian bookstores across the country for 45 years. He and Jane settled in Concord 35 years ago to run and eventually take over Parable.

Jane said what stands out to her were the times she has helped someone pick out their own Bible. No two are alike, she said. Some may have literal translations, where as others might try to convey the meaning behind the words. Some are just the text, while others contain footnotes and annotations on themes and meanings.

You won’t find that kind of dedication on the internet. And until Parable closes at the end of the month, the Cheesemans plan to continue to serve their customers with the same kind of faithfulness.

It’s that attitude that caused Church of God pastor Rev. Wayne Nelson to stop in and say goodbye. He and church official Patty Dyer had been periodically making the 35-mile trip to buy goods from Parable for years.

“I like a personal business,” Nelson said. “You get to see something in person before you buy it. And if you want a sample of something, you can try it here before you buy it.”

Before leaving, Nelson, Dyer and the Cheesemans joined hands in prayer. Later, Nelson said that his prayer – that the Cheesemans would have luck in whatever happens next – came straight from his heart.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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