Stornoway has an unusual and growing attraction for tourists and visitors…its Christian bookshop!
Since September 1951, the Stornoway Religious Bookshop has served the Christian community of Lewis and Harris where it has a loyal customer base that ensures it is the best of its kind anywhere in the north of Scotland.
But it is also a lure for tourists and visitors who are increasingly unable to find similar bookshops in their home areas. They also look for specifically Island or Gaelic matters, such as those related to the great religious revivals on the islands, and they love CDs of Gaelic psalms.
And Island families living away often return to the shop to make the most of its extensive range of purely Christian cards and related products.
The shop is also anxious to get ‘on the road’ and run pop-up shops or stalls at island events, recently providing a stall at a service arranged by the Salvation Army and held at St Columba’s for around 200 guests from a visiting Norwegian tourist ship.
Last Christmas they held stalls inside a couple of the old people’s homes in Stornoway – and they have travelled as far as Uist and Tarbert in Harris in the past to take part in sales. Organisers who feel their events would benefit from adding a bookshop stall are welcome to contact the shop.
Otherwise, the shop has not moved far since it was established by the late Rev Roderick Macdonald – it is now in its third location on Kenneth Street (No. 30), having previously been based at numbers 6 – where the library now is - and 18, behind what used to be Murdo Maclean’s.
The shop is run by a board of trustees and has three part-time members of staff.
Managing the venture day-to-day for more than 17 years has been Moira Macpherson. “All of our profits after running costs go towards Christian charities, locally, nationally and internationally. We also sponsor a little girl in India and pay for her education and school fees.”
Inside the shop are a vast array of different items for sale, from cards and books to pictures, household items such as chopping boards, stationery, bookmarks, toys, keyrings, ornaments, coasters – as well as a great range of Christian-themed literature and study guides.
“Our cards are a massive part of our business,” said Moira. “We sell all sorts of cards, all with a Christian message, for all sorts of occasions. Our biographies and Christian testimony books are the most popular books.
“We also stock a range of commentaries for people who are studying, and we have a section on Christian fiction, which a lot of people aren’t aware of.
“And then we have a range of books on Christian living, which offer support for growing in the Christian life, and also daily devotionals.”
So vast is the selection of stock housed by the Stornoway Religious Bookshop, they have a separate store ‘jam-packed’ with items not on public display.
“If you don’t see something you’re after, don’t just assume we don’t have it,” said Moira. “It could be that it’s through in the store. And we can always order books, as long as they are of a Christian theme.” And they are always searching for more suppliers as there are continued changes in the market and the falling number of religious bookshops on the mainland is affecting the range supplied by wholesalers.
For the Stornoway Religious Bookshop, children are highly-valued customers, and the shop stocks a whole wall full of activity books, puzzle books, DVDs, and CDs, all Christian-themed.
The shop also provides books for Sunday school prizes, Sunday school teaching materials, Christian conferences, and they regularly hold book stalls at missions or evangelistic rallies.
CDs by local artists are sold for no profit, and you can also find Christian jewellery, DVDs, gift bags, Christian tissues, and even Christian-themed sweets with Biblical texts on the wrappers.
And of course, there is a massive section devoted to Bibles, featuring study Bibles, daily devotional Bibles, and Bibles for children of all ages.
“By shopping at the Stornoway Religious Bookshop, you are supporting the local economy and helping Christian work to continue both locally and further afield,” added Moira.
“If we were to have a mission statement, it would be that everything we sell would be a blessing to the person who receives it.”