A buzzer sounds in Mark Logan’s office every time someone comes through the front doors of Adventist Book Center.
Located about 15 minutes from downtown Spokane, the Seventh-day Adventist bookstore is on the grounds of the Upper Columbia Conference headquarters, which is hidden from the road by towering Ponderosa pines.
“We’re open to anybody, but we’re not obvious from the street,” Logan, manager of ABC Christian Bookstore, said. “But people know we’re here.”
The buzzer trumpets as he speaks. Some customers wander in to peruse Christian gifts while others look through the rows of books. Several head to the grocery section to stock up on vegetarian products.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, which has about 25 bookstores throughout North America, emphasizes a well-balanced vegetarian diet. Logan said the grocery section is a big draw and helps keep the store open, while many Christian bookstores nationally have recently been forced to close.
“The healthy eating portion of what we do is a niche market. What keeps us remaining viable is that,” he said, noting that many struggling religious bookstores only sell Christian books, DVDs and Bibles.
The store also has a bookmobile that takes books — and food — to towns without an SDA bookstore throughout eastern Washington, northern Idaho and central Oregon.
Logan said that outreach helps sustain customer relationships and build community at a time when faith-based bookstores face hard times.
In March, LifeWay Christian Resources announced it would be closing all 170 of its bookstores. Last year Family Christian Stores closed its 240 brick and mortar stores and in 2012 the United Methodist Church’s Cokesbury stores closed its 57 shops.
A recent study by the Parable Group, a Christian marketing agency, found that there are at least 100 markets with 50,000 people who don’t have access to a Christian bookstore within an hour’s drive.
Logan said LifeWay hinted that it would be closing, but he didn’t expect it to happen so soon.
“We’ve seen this with brick and mortar stores,” he said. “This has been happening for a while, they’ve been struggling, and now it seems like it’s hitting the Christian market.”
Although the Adventist Book Center has a loyal customer base, he said sales have slowed and like all bookstore owners, he’s trying to figure out how to have a better online presence that gives his store an edge over Amazon.
Byron Borger, co-owner of Hearts & Minds bookstore in Dallastown, Pa., said LifeWay and other chain Christian stores stopped “being bookstores,” which was the beginning of the end.
He said that some bookstores had to rely on what he called “Jesus junk” to help keep their doors open.
Some carried a limited number of titles due to theological restrictions. And Christian bookstores face many of the same challenges that other retailers face.
“Mainline liturgical stores, Catholic bookstores and the mom and pop conservative evangelical stores, we’re all in trouble,” he said. “It’s part of a bigger trend in the Western world in a shift away from reading.”
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Source: Religion News Service