With more than 240 stores in 36 states, Family Christian is the largest chain of Christian retail stores in the world. Being the biggest hasn’t spared the company from financial difficulty, though. After struggling for two years since filing for bankruptcy in 2015, Family Christian announced on Thursday, February 23, 2017, it will be closing all its stores.
“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,” president Chuck Bengochea says of the decision.
Unlike other bookstores, Family Christian is a nonprofit business, employing more than 3,000 people. According to Central Charts, the nonprofit “provided humanitarian aid for more than 14 million orphans, widows and oppressed people across the globe.”
Family Christian started out as the retail arm of publishing brothers Pat and Bernie Zondervan in 1931. Originally setting up shop in the family farmhouse in Grandville, Michigan, the stores eventually separated from Zondervan Publishing and became the stores we are familiar with today. In 2012, the bookstore chain faced financial difficulties and was acquired by three businessmen whose vision was to turn it into a nonprofit organization, contributing 100 percent of its profits to ministries serving widows and orphans.
In 2015, the company again faced financial difficulties, but this time their debt was so severe they filed for bankruptcy and were subjected to the mercy of their creditors (publishers and merchandise suppliers). The creditors allowed a third party to purchase the chain, while absorbing millions of dollars of Family Christian’s debt. The decision affected some of the smaller publishers involved in the deal, including Gospel Light and Send the Light Distribution. Gospel Light filed for bankruptcy, while Send the Light closed down last year.
Giving a reason for closing its doors, Bengochea explains the company “had two very difficult years post-bankruptcy,” and cited not being able to get “the pricing and terms we needed from our vendors to successfully compete in the market.”
Bengochea says, “Today and always, we are grateful to God for the privilege of serving Him and look forward to finishing strong for His name’s sake.”
No timeline has been set for shutting the stores down.