Dick Stevens is seeking someone who loves books just as much as he does.
For 60 years, beginning with a selection set up on a card table in Wake Forest, Stevens has sold books, with a focus on the theology tracts ministers seek out for their personal libraries and university’s religion departments and divinity schools require.
Now though, at age 84, Stevens is ready for a change.
He still enjoys believes in the importance of books just as much as he did when he was a young theology student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. He hopes he can keep a hand in the business as a volunteer and is eager to share what he knows with a potential buyer. He cannot imagine going into other used books stores on vacation and not picking up a volume or two.
But his knees are aching, and he think the business needs someone new with the technology and marketing skills to help the book side of his shop survive.
Stevens worked for years in Wake Forest and Raleigh under the name Stevens Book Shop. Today, he shares a store, “Stevens Gallery and Framing” on Capital Boulevard, with his daughter, who runs a fine art and framing business.
Hundreds of thousands of books have gone in and out the doors of his shops. But Stevens was never in it to just make a buck.
“I don’t like to get rid of books just to get rid of them,” he said. “I want to find the customer for that book.”
It’s a philosophy his customers treasure.
Tom Jackson, a retired minister from Wake Forest Baptist Church, said that when he walks into the shop with its hand-lettered signs and asks for a book, Stevens often knows off the top of his head whether he has it on hand among thousands of volumes.
If not, he almost always knows how to get it.
Jackson said Stevens’ work in providing books to ministers is important because it allows them to continue their studies with theological works that they can’t find on the shelves off popular bookstores.
“It hard to find books like that and he has been a channel for them for years,” Jackson said.
Stevens began his shop in 1954 in Wake Forest on a table as a way to make money while he put himself through school. His business later moved to a pantry, then a series of stores there and in Raleigh.
He’s had some interest in the collection from buyers, but he’s still hoping to hear from more people. He would be especially happy if someone kept the books local and continued to focus on the needs of ministers and other students of religion.
Despite studying at the seminary, Stevens never spent time as a minister. But, he doesn’t regret the choice. Books became their own kind of calling.
“I feel that I didn’t leave the ministry. I did a different ministry,” he said.
During the past six decades, Stevens said he’s realized that he’s tending to layers of lives with each book he handles. There are the people in each book’s stories, the authors who pour themselves into their creations and the readers who take it all in.
It’s been a challenge, he said, but a fulfilling one, to have lived among books for so many years.
“I just want to give thanks for having lived this long to serve the folks that we have,” he said.