The "Bible Book Store" has been around for 150 years, but it remains one of Buffalo's most inconspicuous not-for-profit enterprises.
Operated by the interdenominational Bible Society of Western New York, the unpretentious little shop is located on the first floor of a two-story brick house at 2561 Main St., a few doors south of Fillmore Avenue.
Despite the Main Street address and two signs that clearly identify it, the store, which distributes as many as 20,000 Bibles annually, seems to be virtually invisible to most of the people who pass by.
"There is not a week that goes by that someone does not come in and say 'I've lived in Buffalo all my life and never knew you were here,'," said Faith Tryon, the society's executive director and only full-time employee.
As much a ministry as it is a business, the Bible Society supplies Bibles, many at cost, to churches, schools, study groups and individuals. It survives on contributions from churches and individuals and on revenue from sales of Bibles and Bible-related materials -- at discount -- from certain publishers.
Mrs. Tryon stressed that all of the Bibles published by the American Bible Society and the International Bible Society, both not-for-profit organizations, are sold at cost.
That means that a complete Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, is available for as little as $2.75. The case-price for 24 Bibles is $2.19 each.
A New Testament, the books of the Bible written since the time of Jesus, sells for as little as 83 cents or 66 cents by the case. A single book of the Bible, the Gospel of John for example, is available for 17 cents.
"Our purpose is to get God's word out into the community as cheaply as possible in languages that they can understand," said Mrs. Tryon. "The purpose always has been to distribute Bibles, not to make money."
Because it has managed to achieve that goal for 150 years, the society will hold an anniversary dinner to celebrate at 6 p.m. Oct. 30 in the Holiday Inn, 620 Delaware Ave. Tickets, costing $20 per person, are available from society directors or at the store.
The guest speaker will be Eugene B. Habecker, a lawyer who has served as president of the American Bible Society since 1991. His topic will be "The Word of God, Alive and Active."
Although the book of religious writings is known as "The Bible," Mrs. Tryon pointed out there is an endless number of variations.
"A lot of people think there is just one Bible. When you consider all the styles and translations, there are hundreds of them," she said.
The society's store offers 41 translations of the Bible in various styles. It also carries Bibles in 44 foreign languages, including Chinese, Greek, Spanish and Swahili.
The International Bible Society, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., says it distributes Bibles in 540 languages.
The Bible Book Store stocks devotional Bibles for women, men, children, families, brides, African-Americans, athletes, prison inmates and couples. It has study Bibles, parallel Bibles containing four different translations in one volume and Bibles in two languages. Some versions have wide margins for making notes or giant-print for easier reading.
There is even a "shoulder strap" Bible that women can carry like a purse.
The Bible also is available on cassette, computer software and as the "Bookman," a 3-by-5 inch miniature lap-top computer that operates on batteries.
Some strive to be all things to all people. For instance, the new "Contemporary English Version" claims it can be understood by a 5-year-old, hold the attention of a teen-ager yet provides rich detail that appeals to adults.
Mrs. Tryon said that despite the flood of new versions, the best seller continues to be the King James Version that was written in 1611. Some first-time Bible shoppers ask for the "Saint James Version."
Besides Bibles themselves, the Bible Book Store offers concordances and commentaries, Bible comic and coloring books, Bible crossword books, Bible story books and pocket and pew editions.
Shelves of speciality books include such titles as "All the Women in the Bible," "What the Bible is All About" and "Sermon Outlines for Busy Pastors."
Mrs. Tryon, who is assisted by four part-time employees, said about 75 percent of the society's sales are to Protestants and 25 percent to Catholics. A few customers are non-Christians who have the Bible on their list of things to read.
Mrs. Tryon, who went to work for the society 13 years ago as a part-time clerk, is the wife of the Rev. Ronald Tryon, pastor of Delaware Avenue Baptist Church.
One of the reasons the society remains such a well-kept secret, she believes, is because as a not-for-profit entity its advertising budget is virtually nil.
"We ask people to tell others about us. It works because we have been here all these years," she said.