When prayer is not enough: we need active co-operation

URC News, 03 Sep 2010: URC bookshop closes its doors

URC bookshop closes its doors

NEWS HAS EMERGED* that the URC Bookshop, which advertised widely for a new manager and assistant manager earlier this year, has now closed down, having quietly closed its doors on Friday September 3rd. This puts the number of Christian bookshops known to have ceased trading on the most recent trade Day of Prayer at two: two independents that essentially stood alone and died alone.

Standing alone is, of course, what independents do. It’s what they like to do, it’s what they’re good at; and given the fate of the SPCK Bookshops and the breakup of Wesley Owen, there’s no guarantee of security in being part of a chain either. Given the state of play at LST, my own former employers, there is no security in being part of a larger institution either if that institution is not committed to bookselling as an essential part of its ministry.

But whilst acknowledging all of these points, I still find myself wondering whether working more closely together — treating one another as partners in mission rather than as competing businesses — could have made the difference that might have saved both the Fareham Well and the URC Bookshop?

We’ve talked about being ‘Stronger Together — Weaker Apart’ (see Joy McIlroy’s report Christian Resources Together Retailers and Suppliers Retreat: A Bookseller’s Perspective if you need a reminder) but whilst we’re good at singing together on retreat, we are still learning how to dance together in reality.

Christian Marketplace, October 2010: BA CBG and PA CSG columns

Christian Marketplace, October 2010

There are signs of hope, however: it’s encouraging to see that the PA Christian Suppliers Group now has its own column in Christian Marketplace, p.17, just over the page from the BA Christian Booksellers Group column, p.15.

Although both groups exist as subgroups within their own separate, commercial organisations, Christian publishers/suppliers and Christian booksellers/retailers are at last beginning to unite under a missional flag. Commercial considerations are not being ignored yet we are finding our ‘common thread’ (to steal from Doug Ross’ column title, which falls neatly between the CBG and CSG pages).

I look forward to the day when we see these two groups fully working together, not only talking about one another in the pages of a magazine but offering a constructive joint trade commentary, actively co-operating in a regenerated trade in reality as well as on retreat.

If you read nothing else in October’s Christian Marketplace, read those two columns, listen to their call, and make sure you’re part of it. Don’t leave it to the point when there are so few of us left that we have no choice about working together…

* h/t John Duncan, 29/9/2010

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7 thoughts on “When prayer is not enough: we need active co-operation

  1. Don’t know reasons but I gather Congregation of Yahweh,Nottingham and Bible Outlet, Hull have also closed. Sometimes it’s renewal of leases and big rent increases which push shops over the edge and that is sad. Brings us back to the discussions on whether churches can help out by providing premises.

    • Sad indeed. Report on the Congregation of Yahweh shop closure here: End of an Era: The Olive Tree Closes … ironically enough, this was a case of a church supporting a shop but which reached the point where new premises proved too expensive; something had to go, and the shop drew the short straw. A question of priorities, I guess:

      The closure of Christian bookshops is a trend around the country, a testimony, perhaps, to the small number of Christians who read Christian books or who listen to Christian music. A testimony also to the growing use of the internet and the convenience of home delivery, combined with the discounting power of major book retailers. In our case, there was the added expense of moving, three years ago, to new premises. This site is so much nicer and more suitable, but the downside is that it is more expensive to run. So, although the Olive Tree actually bucked the trend in that sales increased slightly in spite of the recession and financial troubles afflicting the country in recent years, the additional income was not enough to cover the additional costs.

      The URC’s problems make an interesting case study: my post To draw people in, you have to reach out back in February was adapted from a presentation I gave to them when I applied for the manager’s job. Not so much the shop closing its doors as never actually having them open in the first place…

      The Bible Outlet was reported ceased trading back in November last year. Intriguingly, Anlaby Park Methodist Church reported on a new shop opening at the same time but never came back to me when I asked for more info to compile a UKCBD entry for them. From their Notices for Week Beginning 8/11/09:

      New Christian Bookshop…
      Hull Methodist Central Hall are pleased to announce the latest addition to their family. A Christian Bookshop has opened in the former bank premises on King Edward Street in Hull. The book shop is open every Wednesday to Saturday 10am to 4pm. The Co-ordinator Brenda Arnold says; “This is exciting sequence of events can only be of God and started in July 2008″. The shop contains a selection of second hand titles as well as stock from the Methodist Publishing House.

      … so there is a Christian bookshop in Hull, just need to find out what it’s called and get a proper address… (Hull Methodist Central Hall’s own website mentions a coffee bar but doesn’t seem to have details of the bookshop…)

  2. I think there is also a point in what you say, Phil, of Independents and indeed the Chains as needing to look at each other as missional partners – and to a degree this means not seeing each other as competition but as active collegues wherever and whenever we can.
    It means for me where we can taking the steps to not actively and deliberately reach into each others area’s if we can at all help it.
    If there is a bookshop already in a greater area do we need to add another?
    If for some reason there seems to be a market it’s not reaching – whether that is due to style, breadth or location – instead of stepping in and thinking of opening a new shop or even large independent bookstall/bookshop as part of the main church centre in that town, city or location can we instead communicate, liase and develop a plan of action that would not mean the potential downfall of another within the same outreach area?
    Sometimes the answer to this may be that at the end there is still a need for a new shop for whatever reason, but at least then we have done all we can to truly and honestly safeguard our communities and out fellow workers, our brothers and sisters, livelihoods and businesses.

    This is not that I am anti-competition or against growth etc, we all must strive to be the best we can – to improve where we can and to stretch out and impact upon other lives for the better – but it is that I do believe we have responsibilities beyond the surface and accepted levels if we are to honestly and genuinely call ourselves ‘Christian’ retailers and businesses, and sometimes being a Christian means putting the needs of others before myself even to my seeming cost, because in the long run the gain is so much the more.

    I think there is also need for all of us to work together to educate the churches and for them, John Pritchards article in the Church Times did a wonderful job to highlight this too.

    There is a need for us all to look at new strategies. Yes independents stand alone – it is as you have said the nature of the creature.
    Yes chains are not always better set to weather the situations at a given time.
    So what is needed are new strategies and new methods of working together, of developing, this does begin with all aspects and links in the chain of retail, from the suppliers outwards, from the bookshops outwards, from the customers outwards.
    we all need to be working to be more active, even independents do not really stand or fall alone! we stand and fall in a community, a community or retailing and a community of church, and a community in which we live and much of the problem I keep saying is that we somehow have overlooked this community aspect, this missional aspect – because mission is about developing community – and unless we can build this back up then we all, chain & independent, church & individual, will continue to fail, to fall.

    we need to move beyond ourselves, beyond our perceptions of what is or isn’t Christian retailing, but more towards an attitude of being and doing what really is Christian. When we do this then growth will happen exponentially and wonderfully and we will see the true meaning of what we do reflected back to us easily – I honestly believe this, but it does begin with education, understanding and truly espousing and being Christian at heart and in action.

    oops – eek and stepping off the soapbox now!

  3. Small point.

    I thought that

    >It means for me where we can taking the steps to not actively and deliberately reach into each others area’s if we can at all help it.

    … unless it can be done Heineken style. Reaching the parts, in which case it is perhaps something to target.

    I’m reminded of adjacent churches not necessarily being competitive due to different styles / demographics / etc.

    A crude example: if a bookspeller speaks Polish, then specialisation makes sense.

    My real point is that “area” is demographic and sociological as well as geographical.

    I think you probably meant this though, Mel.

    (Left the typo in because I like it)

  4. Hi Matt,

    yep that sort of is what I was trying to get at with the follow on line/idea…
    ‘can we instead communicate, liase and develop a plan of action that would not mean the potential downfall of another within the same outreach area?
    Sometimes the answer to this may be that at the end there is still a need for a new shop for whatever reason, but at least then we have done all we can to truly and honestly safeguard our communities and our fellow workers, our brothers and sisters, livelihoods and businesses.’

    What concerns me is that sometimes there isn’t that initial contact/liason or thought for the other already in the setting as it were, and sometimes a simple conversation or liason can make a big, big difference.

    If a bookseller speaks polish then thats a fantastic skill, but that could be a skill that can be utilised within the existing store, this providing the polish speaker with a secure(ish!) job and building an existing business to the benefit of both and the community as opposed to risking the likelihood of real success for both should the polish bookseller decide to open and then realise that there isn’t enough business just in specialising in polish books and then having to expand into the area of english books that then seriously impacts on the existing business.
    Meanwhile the existing business ups the ante, perhaps in terms of service, goods or through existing networks coming good, and both businesses loose out as the business of both gets dented to the point that the businesses just can’t make enough to be viable and both eventually close.
    (BTW *grin* good choice of subject there as we have a large polish community here in Lincoln and I offer some Polish books here at UTB at the request of and with the assistance of some of my polish friends who work locally, but I don’t speak polish unfortunately – Foreign language books can be a great supporting add on market & community service in the right area’s!)

    Sometimes what has contributed to the closures is too much overlap in styles/stock and too small a demographic to support that overlap.
    By the same token sometimes some of the closures come because the ‘niche’ of the target demographic is too specialised and small to support the business and they haven’t ventured out into other markets/styles.
    The truth is that the market is very very small these days and perhaps part of our problem sometimes is being too hung up on type of book/items stocked, church attended, missiologial/theological/doctirinal basis, look of shop, area located etc to see the reality of the picture as a whole and in context of our changing cultural, socio-political and faith fractured landscape which in the end effects the final demographic and community base that is at the end of the day what we rely on to be our consumer, customer, provider. We have lost sight of the impact we have on each other and cannot fail to have because regardless of what some may want to think we are community based and linked together.

    Often there is room for more than one, sometimes there is not, but there should and must always be room for communication, care and consideration. For colleagues and cooperation as opposed to competition and closure.

    For me it is about the conversation, the liason, the working together, the building of true and real communities and practicing real Christ centred principles wherever possible.

    ‘“area” is demographic and sociological as well as geographical.’
    too right – “area” is community and that’s way bigger then geographical boundary whilst also encompassing it as an integral factor – and community is where we should be, how we should be and at the end of the day Community is what we make it – and that says as much about us as anything and all.

    Gah – soapboxing again, sorry, but thanks for the brain exercise – hope it makes some sort of sense! :0)

  5. Matt & Melanie: Finding myself agreeing with both of you. At LST I had no hesitation in directing enquirers to their local Christian bookshop if I knew of one; and I frequently referred customers to either Maranatha, Uxbridge or Wesley Owen / Living Oasis Harrow or Watford if I thought they were better able to meet the customers’ requirements — not at all unusual given that LST focused on academic theology.

    Maranatha often returned the favour … not sure that WO/LO ever did: if so I never heard about it…

  6. Pingback: URC Bookshop Overwhelmed by Response to Final Clearance Sale « The Christian Bookshops Blog

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