Sue Smith CBA Board Chairman

As my store’s fiscal year end draws near, it’s safe to say this year will be forever marked as one of change. Our country’s retail landscape altered dramatically in this span of 12 months like never before.

According to a recent online article, “Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest wave of retail closures in decades.” In Grand Rapids, I can see four blocks of brick-and-mortar retailers on the busiest road in town that have fallen this past year alone.

In our industry, Family Christian Stores (FCS) closing their doors has had the largest impact on our businesses collectively. Given this dramatic change, now is a time for retailers to pause and possibly restructure. Business closings clarify that our consumers have chosen their preference of shopping habits, and the impact on retail is disastrous. So let’s ask ourselves how we will stay alive as we ride the shifting trends.


Overall, my main concern for industry stores is that they will try to replicate what FCS was to their community. The FCS business plan for growth obviously hasn’t worked for a very long time. We need to move past that and ask our communities what they’re looking for. I’ve asked that question and what I’m hearing is:

  1. We want a bookstore that sells books well. We want a store that is well stocked in books that can be shopped easily, with generous offerings in both gifts and music.
  2. Churches want to support local bookstores, but they have come to think of them as gift shops, not bookstores.
  3. We want to be able to lose ourselves in the stacks of books.
  4. We want you to match Amazon pricing when possible.
  5. We want you to be a place to hang out and have community with like-minded believers.
  6. We want to you to be a place of authenticity, being willing to host authors to speak and converse on matters of the church and culture.
  7. Experience is a huge part of the draw to bookstores. Without the experience, why would I leave the comfort of my home and the accessibility of easy online shopping?
  8. Good coffee is, of course, a huge part of the book-buying experience.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again: The local church wants to support our stores. If retailers go to them, ask for their loyalty, and reward them with competitive discounts, the church will respond in full force. Supporting churches is twofold: It advances the Gospel of Christ, and it adds much-needed revenue back to our bottom line.

The time is now for retailers to pause, listen, reach out to churches, and renew our retail business models.

Sue Smith, CBA Board Chairman