Large signs in the window only confirm rumors that have been floating around town the last week — Family Christian will be closing its doors, after 85 years in business.
The downtown Clinton location is just one of the 240 retail locations in 36 states, nationwide, that is being forced to close following declining sales since filing bankruptcy protection in 2015.
All requests for comments from the local store were directed to the businesses headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“After 85 years of serving the Christian community, Family Christian Stores is closing,” Mary Beth Googasian, senior manager of public relations, said. “It has been a privilege to serve alongside our many partners in helping people find, grow, share and celebrate their faith.”
Known as the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise, the nonprofit retail business employs more than 3,000 people. Family Christian sells a variety of items including Bibles, stationery, clothes, jewelry and church supplies in its stores and online.
“We had two very difficult years post-bankruptcy,” Chuck Bengochea, company president, stated in a press release. “Despite improvements in product assortment and the store experience, sales continued to decline. In addition, we were not able to get the pricing and terms we needed from our vendors to successfully compete in the market. 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.”
An exact timetable for the shutdown has not been offered by the company, but total liquidation could take anywhere from 8-12 weeks. The company did not respond to questions regarding the specifics of the Clinton location.
“At its core, Family Christian is an organization with a heart for service,” Steve Biondo, senior vice president of human resources and organizational development, said. “We are grateful for all of the millions of lives that have been impacted thanks to our guests and employees heart for bringing the light of Jesus to the darkest corners of our world. Through their efforts there is no question we have transformed lives now and for eternity.”
The company was started in 1931 in Grandville by two brothers — Pat and Bernie Zondervan. They opened a publishing enterprise and a bookstore. The company gradually expanded, opening other stores in Michigan and the Midwest. In the 1970s the company changed its name from Zondervan to Family Bookstores, and continued to add locations.
In 2012, Georgia business executives bought the company from a private equity firm, which wanted out of years of losses, and the company transitioned from a for-profit enterprise to a nonprofit organization that gave away Bibles and gospel tracts around the world and made donations to groups that care for orphans and widows.
But three years later — citing competition from online merchants — the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
At the time, the company said its sales had fallen 29 percent from 2008 to about $216 million.
Months later, the company hoped it had found a buyer, Family Christian Acquisitions, but the bid was withdrawn, and the company later announced it was pursuing a new course “to becoming a stronger retailer and supporter of faith-based causes” by expanding the product selection to include more home decor and apparel.
Bengochea said in the company statement that Family Christian has “left a powerful legacy of helping people find, grow, share and celebrate their faith in Jesus Christ.”
According to the press release, over the years, announcements from the company touted donations to hospitals, partnerships with charitable efforts, campaigns to raise money to help orphans and the less fortunate, a summer reading program, and hosting best-selling and well-known Christian authors at its stores.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.