The United Methodist Publishing House has announced that it will be closing down all their Cokesbury stores, supplanting them with business through other venues.
UMPH made the announcement regarding their signature retail store on Monday, referring to the process of removing brick-and-mortar stores, or "Cokesbury/Next," as being a "transition."
"…[T]he number of Cokesbury customers relying solely on store locations has steadily declined," said the Nashville-based company.
"In the most recent customer survey, only 15 percent of Cokesbury's customers reported shopping exclusively in stores."
Amy Smith, CAO / Associate to the President & Publisher of UMPH, told The Christian Post that the closures of the 38 "full line" stores and 19 seminary stores will be gradual.
"We presently have 38 full-line and 19 seminary stores operating across 25 states and the District of Columbia. The first brick-and-mortar store is scheduled to close in January of 2013 and all of the stores will close by April 30, 2013," said Smith.
"Careful analysis of the health of the local retail stores in the last year have resulted in the decision to close the local Cokesbury stores because of continued sales declines and increasing operating costs."
Smith explained that Cokesbury will not become an exclusively online endeavor, but rather would maintain its operations through other various means.
"CokesburyNext is an initiative to redirect focus into 4 retail channels: Cokesbury.com, the Cokesbury Call Center, Cokesbury Sales Representatives, and an increase in Cokesbury's presence at local events," said Smith.
"The scale and frequency of Cokesbury's presence at local conferences and meetings will increase as well, and Cokesbury will work with church partners to host many of its most popular events."
The statement by UMPH has drawn considerable negative responses from Methodists and others who looked favorably upon the local Cokesbury bookstores.
Comments on Facebook and other sites regarding the news involve people declaring it "sad," "devastating" and a "shame." On the UMC news site, United Methodist Reporter the Rev. Kenneth Lytton of Boones Creek United Methodist Church in Gray, Tenn., posted that the transition removed the interactive human effect that stores have.
"In this day and time I realize that on-line and/or call center shopping is a popular and [efficient] way of doing business. However, the church should be different!" wrote Lytton.
"Cokesbury stores have served as a meeting place and a place to share ideas and review new materials together between pastors and lay people for years. I feel this impersonal approach is detrimental to the mission of our denomination."
There is also the issue of those who will lose their jobs. When asked by CP regarding those employees who would be released as a result of the transition, Smith responded that UMPH would take care of them.
"We honor their ministry and will make concerted efforts to assist them in the transition to new work and to help ensure their well-being," said Smith.
"Spiritual and other counseling will be available and we will provide outplacement services, an opportunity to extend health benefits, and severance packages for employees."
According to Smith of UMPH, the schedule of closures for the Cokesbury stores will eventually be posted at www.cokesburynext.com as soon as it becomes finalized.