Bible Depot: 88 Years in the Making
Almost 100 years ago, a small business had a grand opening that not only changed their lives but affected many people around them. In 1931, Bible Depot, a Christian bookstore, was established by Reverend James C. Ney in Sunbury, PA. Unfortunately, Reverend James is no longer with his bookstore, but I was able to talk to his daughter in law, Nancy Ney, when I visited the establishment. I was so fortunate to sit down with Nancy and discuss the history of Bible Depot and the affects it had on its community. To think that Bible Depot has been around for 88 years is astonishing. Not only has it lived through major historic events, but it has grown internally and externally as a business and family.
Timeline of Bible Depot’s Important Events
A Building’s Life Story
When Bible Depot was first established in 1931, it was grounded on Market Street in Sunbury, PA. This original location was inserted into the heart of Sunbury where the majority of the town’s population would visit and do most of their extra circular activities. This gave Bible Depot the advantage of traffic and interactions with the overflow from the movie theatre, shops, Weis and many more businesses along the street. It wasn’t shortly after when Reverend James C. Ney wanted to relocate due to the lack of space. Though it has always been a Christian supply store, they wanted a bigger floorplan to expand there inventory and selection.
Thinking about a new location, the owner specially scoped out this building on Front Street because of its busy traffic pattern and view of the Susquehanna River. Unfortunately, their move in 1940 was just shy of the new flood wall which was built along the river between 1947-1951. Though the view was taken away, this didn’t stop Bible Depot from staying. In fact, Bible Depot has been at this location ever since 1940. A major reason why the Reverend wanted to remain at 122 N Front Street was for the effects of this railroad town. By being emerged next to a railroad, Bible Depot was able to gain a wider range of customers and supplies. When I asked more about the building itself, I was moved by the transformation Bible Depot went through to uphold the look it wears today. As displayed in the photo above, the original façade was a pale yellow with painted on words and religious symbols. While talking to Nancy about the building, she mentioned how she often prayed about how to change or update the building while still keeping the emotional ties to the family. Though her and her daughter did not agree on a color at first, they compromised for the blue that still covers the walls to this day. After a couple months passed by Nancy Ney wanted to get a custom sign created for the street side wall but could not afford it at the time. Miraculously, after a customer came into the store and chatted with Nancy about her issue, he graciously offered to make her letters that spelt out “Bible Depot” for free. I may not be super religious, but when good deeds happen for deserving people, my spiritual levels rise and I get hope that someone of higher power is looking out for us.
It Runs in the Family
Bible Depot has been family-run since it opened in 1931. Reverend James C. Ney started this business to bring awareness to Christianity in Sunbury but also to help support other religious groups in the community. According to Nancy, “he put everything into this store because he loved being able to share God’s words to those in need”. Once Reverend James passed away, the business was left in the hands of his family. It wasn’t shortly after when the Reverend’s son, David A. Ney, met Nancy and their relationship began. Around 1970, they began running the business together and would find ways to increase the value. Seeing how this was a house, David wanted to build an addition onto the building to give them larger retail space. When you walk in the front door, all the rooms to the right were added in the mid 1970’s. Today the second floor is split up into two rented apartments with a back entrance of the store. Once Nancy and David had kids, they raised them upstairs while still managing the business. Their children grew up tending to the store with their parents and playing when not at school. As Tim Cresswell mentions in his passage, Defining Place, “It is clear that places almost always have a concrete form”(7). It’s interesting to think that for Bible Depot, this may not be true. For it is a business, home, support group, etc. Yes, you can see physically see all of these attributes, but what is most important is understanding what they mean.
In terms of business growth in Bible Depot, while it started and still is a Christian supplies store, it wasn’t always that diverse. Since Nancy never knew her father, she wasn’t quite sure what religious group she fell under. Right before her mother passed, Nancy was informed that her father was Jewish which sparked many connections in Nancy’s life. This was the cause of the Jewish sections and multiple cultural devices throughout the store. By integrating more books, products and services from other religions, Nancy was able to enhance the relationships with more individuals throughout Sunbury.
God is Greater than Highs and Lows
If you look at the sales charts for Bible Depot throughout history, there wouldn’t be drastic changes. This business has kept a moderate income throughout its 88 years of being in business. Other than the financial aspect of Bible Depot, there hasn’t been much chaos between the store and public. Although, roughly when Nancy began working here with her husband, there was an incident with the local churches during the 70’s which lasted for a couple of years. Wanting to spread the word of Christ, Bible Depot began to handout bibles to locals and prison ministries. The churches were not in agreement with their actions towards the prisons and started to protest the store. Though pastors come through regularly to buy supplies for their churches, the protestors did not seem to understand why she was passing out bibles to “criminals”. This protest soon seized and Bible Depot was back to its normal ways. In Reading ‘A Global Sense of Place’ by Tim Cresswell, he states that “some groups make quite positive and inclusive attempts to tap into a place’s history or promote a particular notion of place as an act of resistance”(75). Why the protest may have cause some negative feelings, it made Bible Depot stronger by reminding them why they do what they do.
Looking past their short discrepancies with the churches, Bible Depot has grown exponentially since then. This business is run strictly by family and local volunteers. All their income goes directly into the store and helping out the community. Free workshops are held on Market Street with free food provided by Bible Depot and local restaurants. They highly encourage people to attend Vacation Bible School in the area and if cost is an issue, they will happily provide bibles and any other supplies needed. Their demographic has grow in terms of race, gender, religion, etc. At the time of my interview with Nancy, she mentioned how she recently had roughly 45 customers in the store at once. The support Bible Depot and its customers have for each other have made this community stronger than it has ever been.
A Simple Gesture
The amount of history behind one business can be extraordinary, that is if you can learn about it. I do have to say, it was very hard to obtain information on specific dates and the building in general due to the lack of public access about their history. Bible Depot tends to put the majority of their funds towards the store rather than in advertising and social media. I am so grateful that Nancy Ney was so welcoming and took time out of her day to sit down and discuss the history of Bible Depot. Hearing stories from the woman who put everything into the store and has shared her life with this community was an unbelievable experience. Though it was difficult to come across information in the public domain, part of me believes that meeting Nancy was God’s doing. Being face to face helped me truly understand how important this place means to her, the customers and volunteers. As I was leaving my interview with Nancy at Bible Depot, she told me to pick a rock out of the basket on my way out. That simple gesture made a bigger impact on me than she may have ever know. From now on, I look at this rock and think of James C. Ney because without him, Bible Depot wouldn’t have reached the hearts that it has for 88 years.
"But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith fulness, gentleness, and self-control." Gal 5:22-23
- N.d. Flickriver. Web. 26 Feb. 2019. <http://www.flickriver.com/places/United+States/Pennsylvania/Sunbury/>
- Photos provided by Nancy Ney
- Photos provided by John Bucci
- N.d. Time Graphics. Web. 26 Feb. 2019. <https://time.graphics/line/233654>
- Nancy Ney. Personal Interview. 20 Feb. 2019.
- Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.
- Cresswell, Tim. Reading ‘A Global Sense of Place’. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.