Glen Moody has always loved books. And to celebrate his 40th year in business in Kingsport, he took a stroll down memory lane to share some of the history behind Moody’s I Love Books.
Moody says his love affair with books began when he was about 8 years old, a third-grade pupil intensely interested in baseball.
“When I was in third and fourth grade, our classroom had a bookcase in it. Probably half of the books were sports biographies,” he said. “This was 1960, when third-graders were the ones who traded sports cards, not 50-year-olds.”
Naturally, he read them all, he said. He did the same in fifth grade, when the classroom library had another set of 50 books to tackle: the Danny Orlis adventure series. When he had the opportunity, he’d walk four miles to the local library to read the books there.
“For much of my childhood, of course we worked in that day and time,” he said, “but when I could get the opportunity, I would walk from where we lived over in Cooks Valley to the library downtown and spend my Saturdays at the library.”
By 16, he had gone into business selling Bibles door-to-door – the main method by which they were distributed back then. It was 1967, and Moody loved books.
“I don’t remember exactly how,” he said, “but somewhere between ages 16 and 18, I acquired 3,000 to 4,000 books.”
From that teenage bedroom lined with bookshelves, he went on to attend Graham Bible College and worked in the college bookstore in Bristol. After attending seminary in Chicago, he went to work for his brother-in-law, who owned a bookstore in Kingsport. While working in that bookstore, he said, “It just kind of got into my blood.”
In June of 1974, he got married and opened his own bookstore. His brother-in-law’s store was eventually closed, but Moody is now entering his 40th year in business.
“We got married on a Saturday, and opened the bookstore on Monday,” he said. “Life has been a bowl of cherries ever since.”
Moody said he’s seen a lot of changes in the book business over the years. In the 1970s, books were big, he said – and most bookstores were small, local businesses. In little more than a decade, he expanded his one store to four: two in Kingsport, one in Bristol and one in Johnson City.
But then the book business began to take a dive, a trend whose beginnings he traces to February of 1987. He blames a variety of economic factors, from the consolidation of many industries through merger and acquisition to the impact of the first Gulf War.
With a shift toward big chain bookstores, he said, the focus became less on books and more on profit margin. The book business was struggling, and in 1991 he closed all of his stores but one. It was part of a trend, he said, that saw 95 percent of U.S. bookstores close their doors in a mere 20 years.
As online book sales took market share from the big-box bookstores, he had the opportunity to sell books that way, which he continues to do along with running his retail store in the Fort Henry Mall. These days, he said, the book business is still tough – but he sees hope in all the children who visit his store.
“The kids are less fascinated with technology and more fascinated with books,” he said.
Even with business seemingly tougher every year, he said independent bookstores like his are making a comeback with a focus on customer service and a “curated” selection of books unique to the bibliomaniac who sells them.
Moody’s I Love Books boasts more than 120,000 volumes, some new and many used - from top-selling books on television series "Duck Dynasty" and UT basketball legend Pat Summitt to local-interest stories from self-published author Jason Moore.
“Independent bookstores are run by people who know books,” he said. “We’re not as interested in making money as in selling books, helping people find the books that they need.”