Where in Time is Bible Depot?
Timeline of Bible Depot’s History
DISCLAIMER: The owner could not give us exact dates for events.
Thinking about the past, at least for me, is somewhat difficult. It’s weird to think that so many things happened before you even existed to make the world we know, how it is today. However, Bible Depot in Sunbury plays a very important role in the history of the town, and the way it has sort of “grown up” with this small river town. It’s not just a bookstore, it’s more of a safe space for people who want to come into contact with some kind of religion. While books are still and essential part of the store, there’s movies, CDs, communion supplies, and other little knick-knacks that any devout Christian would love. In a town with 16 places of worship within a few blocks, Bible Depot is a refreshing new look on religious bookstores, even though it has a history that goes back 88 years.
On my most recent trip to Bible Depot, I was able to interview the owner about how the eighty-eight-year-old book store got its roots in Sunbury in the first place. Reverend James C. Ney originally came to Nochrist in Shamikon and was so giddy about opening a book store, that he went around handing out New Testaments with coins in them. The reason behind this was so that people could get in contact with him, either for a stamp or a Bible, and that way more people knew about the store that was opening. By the time Ney got to Sunbury, his house on Susquehanna Avenue became the place of the original Bible Depot. He ended up moving to Front Street because the business quickly outgrew the original building.
Nancy Ney, the current owner of Bible Depot, is the daughter-in-law of the James C. Ney. She told us its current location on Front Street in Sunbury was due to the fact that the houses there were bigger, and the move from its original location to where it is now happened in the early 1940s. Front Street is also right off of 147, so that amount of traffic that passes by the store front is pretty large. Nancy suggests that the bookstore was put in the house because it is a standing building that’s large enough to house everything. The store is one big house. Nancy talked about how she raised her children upstairs. While the upstairs used to be one big house, it is now two separate apartments upstairs. She said she came to the bookstore in 1970, and has been working there ever since.
While all that separates the store from the road is a slim sidewalk, the raging Susquehanna river sits just under 20 feet away from the store front. “The wall was built by the army core of engineers way back before the 70’s,” said Nancy. As I continued to ask about the flood wall, she said she remembers the water being “up to your knees” in the store, before the wall had been built.
The fluidity of the store can bring about the remembrance of Christopher Morely’s “Parnassus on Wheels.” Roger Mifflin, one of the protagonists of the story, has a Parnassus on Wheels, which is a travelling bookstore that he lived inside of. While Bible Depot has moved location, it is more like a “living bookstore” as is the Parnassus on wheels. Nancy, the current owner, actually lives WITHIN the bookstore. As you wonder around the inside of the store, you quickly notice that the merchandise is placed around this central room that has warning signs saying “BEWARE OF DOG” on the doors on both ends. Turns out, that’s where Nancy lives. In the center of this beautiful and crowded store of religious artifacts lives Nancy who has been attached at the hip to the store her entire life, selling Christian paraphernalia and practicing Christianity, just as Roger Mifflin had had the travelling book cart to sell books that he believed helped make a person more well-rounded.
While the store features sections that includes section with books about how finding God can save a marriage and one notably titled, “Jesus and the Quran,” there’s a whole section in the store solely dedicated to Judaism. The section doesn’t feel completely out of place in the store, but there is something odd about a Jewish section being in the middle of a Christian bookstore. Nancy even said that the store had never just sold books, they were always a place of Christian supplies.
“I was born illegitimately, and never knew my dad,” said Nancy, “so when my mother was on her death bed, she started telling me about my father. She cried and told me that my father was Jewish, and I said, ‘Well mom that’s wonderful, Jesus was Jewish!’”
Because of Nancy, the Jewish section in the store is prominent part, and when asked about the certain denomination of religions that come through the store, she said, “All the ones that believe in the one God are welcome here.”
While the history of the bookstore seems a bit construed, the store has historically been involved in the community of Sunbury. The store doesn’t do any advertising, as all of the money goes towards serving those in the Christian community. They help to fund mission trip and child Evangelism. Nancy even teamed up with a local pastor and gave out free Bibles to everyone in Sunbury. The store also practices giving out free bibles to prison ministries.
On this issue of controversy regarding a niche Christian bookstore, in the 70s, right after Nancy had started, she said the churches were going to boycott the store over a “chick track” that had a controversial message on it. Once Nancy read it, she found that it was controversial and agreed not to carry it in the store. To this day, Nancy still doesn’t understand why the pastors of the community never just came to her, instead of threatening to boycott that store.
However, Nancy is now a lot closer with the community and their pastors as they regularly come in for communion and other church supplies. While Bible Depot has never done wholesale with churches, she said that if something had happened to the church, she would most definitely work with the church to figure something out and get them back on their feet.
The most recent historical event to take place with Bible Depot was the recent color change to the store front. If you go on Google Maps, the photo of the store is a stark contrast to what it is now. It’s bright yellow with blue and pink letters and other Christian symbols. The current building is blue with yellow accents, and the sheds in the back are painted to match.
Nancy said she prayed until she figured out the building was to be blue. She tested the original color of blue she had bought, and it turned out to be a nasty color. After searching for another shade of blue, she found an old can of paint in the basement, which is now the color of the building.
“Everything comes in blessings” said Nancy. This isn’t just referring to the great find of the blue paint in the basement, but also makes reference to the store fronts new letters. After contacting a sign company about a new sign, the estimate was over $1,000. One day, a customer came in and made a prototype for Nancy, and made all the others too, and hung the new sign on the front of the building free of charge.
To me, Nancy is like a modern day, Christian Roger Mifflin. Her mission isn’t to force people to believe in any type of God, but to make people feel accepted and comfortable with themselves. In a way, isn’t that the point of a bookseller? A bookseller recommends books to a customer for the purpose of entertain and self-education, but also recommends things that will make someone happy or just feel good about themselves. Though I am an agnostic Christian, the cheeriness of the store and the welcome-ness of all of the employees makes Bible Depot hard to NOT enjoy and feel more than accepted being there.
Map + Timeline
“Google Maps.” Google Maps. Google, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2019, http://maps.google.com/.
“Time Graphics.” Time Graphic. Time.Grapjic, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2019, https://time.graphics/line/234320
Chobanoff, Anna. Bible Depot, 28 Feb. 2019, Sunbury, Pennsylvania
McClure-Carpenter, Mikayla. Bible Depot, 06 Feb. 2019, Sunbury, Pennsylvania
“The Floodwall – Sunbury: The Heart of the Susquehanna.” Sunbury: Heart of the Susquehanna, 28 Feb. 2019, http://www.sunburypa.org/the-flood-wall.html
Morley, Christopher. Parnassus on Wheels. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1917. Print
Ney, Nancy. Personal Interview. 22 Feb 2019.