From Bibles to Bee Gees
by Stephen McDill
Published: April 5,2013
Charles Sproles calls it “a God thing.”
Norris Bookbinding Co. in Greenwood has spent more than half a century covering the bookbinding needs of the country from Bibles and rare books to periodicals and genealogy.
“We give all the credit to God for keeping us around,” Sproles says. “I don’t know why He’s still got us here.”
Founded in 1947 by H.H. Norris, the company has serviced customers in all 50 states, more than 30 countries and has the distinction of being the world’s largest Bible bindery.
Sproles, 77, was a cashier at the local Jitney Jungle in the 1940s when he met Norris and was offered a binder apprenticeship in his shop. Norris died in 1967 and Sproles and his brother, Johnny, bought the business for themselves in 1993.
The Sproles brothers have since included their wives and children in the company’s operations, making the business a family tradition.
Charles’ wife, Sandra, and son, Gib, work in the workshop and handle the office computers and email orders, and his daughter, Stephanie Jackson, processes orders and corresponds with customers. Johnny’s daughter, Nila Gardner, has worked for more than 20 years in the shop’s gold-lettering department.
“We get along so good because we love one another and respect one another so much in our different jobs,” Sproles says. The brothers have both battled cancer in recent years but still show up for work every day.
“I talk too much and Johnny doesn’t talk enough,” Sproles says, adding that their personality differences mesh well in the leadership of the company.
The workshop hand sews one out of every 10 orders, the rest are done on machines. Sproles says most books bought these days are in better condition after he restores them than they were when they were first sold.
Books and publishing have come a long way since Norris Bookbinding first opened its doors. Sproles says that while plenty of work is still in the pipeline, the modern computer and digital publishing has changed the tides of his business.
E-readers and Internet publishing continue to make the local library archaic and even school textbooks are emerging into the digital market. Many bookbinding companies have closed because they relied on binding services for library and academic books. Courthouse and hospital records have also gone electronic, more changes in the industry.
“Heck, everybody now if they wanna know something they get on the computer and do their research,” Sproles says.
One well that hasn’t run dry is Sproles’ Bible binding operations. “We’re repairing His word. He’s blessed us,” he says.
Newer Bibles for example are usually bound with glue by publishers trying to get by with cheaper resources. Sproles will sew the cracked spines and loose pages of worn and torn Bibles and bind them with genuine leather, all the while being careful not to disturb the many sermon notes his customers often write in the margins.
Missionaries often send in copies to be repaired and for many years Sproles bound Bibles for the staff of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. They also rebound hundreds of copies of the Christian group’s Decision magazine.
Norris gets most of its Bible business through Christian bookstores because that’s the first place a Bible owner goes to try and get a repair. One time they repaired a family Bible belonging to former First Lady Nancy Reagan.
The Sproles family has plenty of secular customers that they are just as grateful for. Billboard Magazine used them to bind volumes of their periodical for years and they also bound a special Bee Gees collector’s edition for the Australian pop group. “We only did a hundred of them, there’s no telling what it would be worth,” Sproles says.
Another customer from Japan mailed them a box of rare books that he wanted restored. “How they found out about us I don’t know,” Sproles says.
Restoring the Bibles though continues to sustain Norris Bookbinding even in the lean times. “Thank the Lord that we kept enough Bibles going,” Sproles says. “They would increase enough so we could keep going. We don’t know why but since January we’ve been real busy with Bibles.”
Norris Bookbinding owner Charles Sproles says that many Bibles are sold with the name “genuine bonded leather.” The term is often misleading. Bonded leather is not pure leather, but rather material that’s made from particles of leather that have been recycled with paper. Imitation leather can be anything from well-woven cotton to paper-coated vinyl. When Norris restores a Bible they either stamp it “genuine leather” or “bonded leather” for extra integrity and clarity of their services. Website: www.norrisbookbinding.com
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