Friday, March 3, 2017

It Couldn't Have Happened to a Nicer Store

One morning this week, Mrs. H asked me to check on something she'd heard on the radio. Apparently, Family Bookstores (formerly Zondervan) were closing their doors.

Let me first say that there's a terrible aspect any time any legitimate business has to shutter itself. Thousands of workers will now be without jobs. Our economy is currently in a state where many will be able to find new jobs quickly. Others won't be affected much because their job with Family Bookstores was only a sidelight. But that won't erase the fact that some of the laid off workers will undergo significant stress in the coming months.

That said, the cynical side of me wants to say that Family Bookstores has only itself to blame for whatever suffering its workers endure because of the store closings. They sure didn't do much to earn the right to stay open, and that's where the sting of this post will begin.

I have one of these stores not a mile from where I live. I have never ceased to be amazed by how petty much of the stock is. I don't just mean the endless supply of Precious Moments figurines, useless trinkets, and Testamints. I also mean row upon row of useless garbage on the bookshelves. Christian romance novels. Self-help books. End times fiction, most of it badly written. (There was once a time when they had several rows with nothing but Left Behind material.)

You needed a shovel and a telescope to find anything that would disciple Christians in this mess. (No, Joyce Meyer doesn't count, sorry.) Apologetics books in particular were scarce, and they were mixed in with end times speculation works. You had a few of the usual unqualified popular preachers doing their thing, but overall, you may as well have discipled yourself with Disney cartoons.

Oh, of course, there were Bibles in plenty. One to suit every need. My poodle Cocoa approves of the Playful Puppies Bible in particular. Family Bookstores, however, otherwise fed us a steady diet of spiritual junk food, so it's no shock that they couldn't keep the business going. Junk food diets don't lead to return customers, because part of that allure is always looking for new types of junk food to stave off boredom with the old types of junk food.

There's broader forces at work here, too, such as the inevitable move to e-books which has people so attached to their Kindles that they wouldn't recognize a print copy of something if it bit them on the nose. ("What is that thing? Some sort of butterfly?") But in the end, most of the blame lies at the feet of those who worked so hard to make Family Bookstores "relevant" that they treated "thou shalt be relevant" as one of the Ten Commandments.

And my cynical side says, it couldn't have happened to a nicer store.


  1. But would they really have stayed in business any longer if they threw out the bestsellers and focused on more intellectual stuff?

    1. They would have had a smaller but much more loyal support base, so yes.