In keeping with a new sales transition announced last year, the United Methodist Publishing House has closed down the last of its Cokesbury bookstores.
Once found at several American seminaries and the occasional shopping center, the remaining six stores were shut down Saturday, three days ahead of the announced Tuesday deadline.
Amy Smith, CAO/associate to the president & publisher of UMPH, told The Christian Post that Cokesbury will continue via its website, call center, sales representatives, and increased presence at local events.
"The Cokesbury Customer Contact Center … has extended its hours, reorganized the staff, and adopted new processes for consultative services to help customers make choices that best fit their needs," said Smith.
"Major investments will be made on an on-going basis to enhance the user experience at Cokesbury.com including lower prices on thousands of products and constantly updated special offers."
Smith also told CP that the offline presence of Cokesbury will be found with increased involvement with sales representatives known as "Community Resource Consultants."
"Community Resource Consultants will visit and consult with customers in their own churches, offices and other settings to hear directly about their needs and aspirations and suggest products and services they'll want to consider," said Smith.
"Over 50 Cokesbury Community Resource Consultants will be in locales across the U.S. to show a full complement of products for various ministry settings."
Last November, the United Methodist Publishing House announced that they would be closing down all their Cokesbury stores due in large part to the stores being a financial burden.
UMPH announced a new plan, dubbed CokesburyNext, which would supplant the previous sales system and result in the closure of all 57 stores manned by approximately 285 part-time and full-time employees.
"[T]he number of Cokesbury customers relying solely on store locations has steadily declined," said the Nashville-based company in a statement.
"In the most recent customer survey, only 15 percent of Cokesbury's customers reported shopping exclusively in stores."
Many patrons of the Cokesbury stores were opposed to the decision. Comments on social media frequently involved words like "sad," "devastating" and a "shame."
On the website change.org, John Crabtree posted a petition demanding that UMPH "Refrain from closing all Cokesbury 'brick and mortar' Bookstores."
"These stores have served as valuable resources for many years. Online purchasing will continue to grow but will not do away with the need for a place to go pick up books and resources immediately," wrote Crabtree.
"The guidance and suggestions of the staff has also been invaluable. A call center or regional rep will not be able to recognize me and suggest books. We pastors, lay people, and seminary students NEED this resource."
When asked by CP if there was a chance that the brick-and-mortar stores could return, Smith of UMPH explained that the publishing world and its business "are constantly changing."
"Cokesbury is dedicating to meeting and serving our customers in ways that are relevant and sustainable. We will continuously innovate and adapt to respond to churches and all who seek to know, honor and serve God," said Smith.
"We are eager to find ways to offer and deliver quality products and remain open to employing all the means and ways that are feasible now or become so in the years ahead."