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Family Christian Stores closing after 85 years

(RNS) The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company employed more than 3,000 people in more than 240 retail sites in 36 states.

A Family Christian Store in Appleton, Wis. Photo courtesy Wikimedia

(RNS) Family Christian Stores, which filed for bankruptcy protection two years ago, has announced it is closing after 85 years.

The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company employed more than 3,000 people in 240 retail sites across 36 states. It was considered the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise.

“We had two very difficult years post-bankruptcy,” said Chuck Bengochea, company president, in a statement. “Despite improvements in product assortment and the store experience, sales continued to decline.”

Bengochea said the nonprofit company was not able to work out terms and pricing with its vendors that allowed it to compete in the market successfully.

“We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God’s plan for our organization, and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse,” Bengochea said.

The company was also known for providing humanitarian aid. In a statement, the company said it had served more than 14 million widows, orphans and other oppressed people across the world.

At the time of the bankruptcy protection filing, Bengochea said the company “took on too much debt” due to declining sales and was hit by the 2008-09 recession and the digital revolution that has changed the sales of books, movies and music.

In 2015, MLive Media Group reported that the chain had $230 million in sales in 2014, down from $305 million in 2008. Publishers Weekly reported that the chain had “assets of between $50 million and $100 million and liabilities in the same range.” The magazine said creditors included prominent publishers such as HarperCollins Christian Publishing, which was owed $7.5 million.

Family Christian Stores was founded in the 1930s. In 2012, it was purchased by three businessmen and donated to the nonprofit Family Christian Ministries.

Its closest competitor was LifeWay Christian Stores, with more than 170 stores.

The president of CBA, formerly known as the Christian Booksellers Association, said in a statement that his organization was “saddened” for the employees and customers affected by the loss of Family Christian Stores and grateful for its long history.

“Family Christian Stores has been an important part of a global network of Christian product providers, yet this decision will not change the strength of our industry’s mission to make God’s name known,” said Curtis Riskey.

“This news brings to light the importance of adapting to a changing marketplace and changes in consumer behavior and can be a catalyst that encourages us in the Christian products industry to find new ways to work together and learn from each other as we continue to equip people with life-giving resources.”

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