Hearts and Minds combines old world charm with new world experience.
Chances are that if you conducted a poll of long-time Christian retailers about the peer they most respect, Byron Borger’s name would be a contender for the top spot. Hearts and Minds, the Dallastown, Pennsylvania, store he has run with his wife, Beth, for more than 30 years, is spoken of admiringly across the industry.
Consider this comment from a sales rep (whose job, remember, is to sell books to the Borgers): “Every time I’m there, I spend too much money because the selection is absolutely amazing.” Then there’s the radio DJ who drives out a couple of times a year from New York to shop what he says is Hearts and Minds’ unparalleled CD section.
That continued emphasis while the category is in general retail decline hints at part of the store’s distinctive and appeal—a one-of-a-kind inventory offered with an unflagging belief in the power of good music and books to touch lives, and a sort of defiant commitment to a little old school charm.
In a world where books have so much become a commodity, Hearts and Minds somehow manages to keep them a calling. Even more than a business owner, Borger appears to be an ambassador for reading works of “goodness and beauty” to stretch the mind and heart.
While the store’s unique inventory is a draw, that’s not enough in itself. Hence the tagline “More Than a Bookstore,” pointing not only to the fact that it does also carry cards and some gifts but also its aim to provide a sense of community.
“We see ourselves as a sort of a learning center, a third place for networking, not just somewhere you buy a product but where you can be encouraged to learn and to grow,” he says. ‘There has to be some ambiance; people come to the store for an experience, not just an exchange.”
At different times, that has involved running book clubs, hosting student group evenings, author visits—Hearts and Minds’ reputation is such that it has attracted the likes of respected British scholar N.T. Wright—and hosting off-site author events.
Typically there are no discounts offered at author events because Borger figures attendees are getting the value of the experience and maybe the chance of an autograph, but he does reduce his prices when he runs conference book tables. “[Conference-goers] come to learn, not primarily to buy books, so we give a discount as necessary,” says Borger.
If he runs out of a certain title, he’ll offer the conference discount for follow-up online orders. The result is not much profit but hopefully another long-term and loyal customer.
The sense of community they try to foster extends online, where Borger is active on Facebook, with almost 4,500 friends. Recently spotting the unlikely brandishing of David Platte’s Radical in a brief scene in the TV series “Madame Secretary,” he posted a screenshot of the moment, prompting a discussion and several hundred likes.
DISCIPLINE AND DILIGENCE
The store’s distinctive profile doesn’t come without effort—the Borgers clock long work weeks, though living on the premises of the 4,000-square-foot store means that it isn’t always easy to tell when he’s wearing his bookseller’s cap.
While appreciating the plaudits his store receives, Borger is quick to make it clear they don’t have it all right. “We realized that saying it’s ambiance and charming to have stacks of cluttered books everywhere was just a cop-out for us not being diligent enough about inventory control.”
Overstock generally doesn’t get returned, however. It goes downstairs to the bargain basement, which is mined for titles for conference book tables, and for occasional special offers in his newsletter.