LifeWay store Oxford Exchange

The LifeWay Christian Store in The Oxford Exchange is among the LifeWay stores closing this year as the business converts to online-only.

One week after LifeWay Christian Resources announced it was closing all 170 of its brick-and-mortar stores by the end of the year, there was a steady stream of customers moving through the LifeWay store at Oxford Exchange.

“I heard they were closing but hoped it wasn’t true,” said Jimmy Mitchell of Delta. Now retired, Mitchell said he visits the Christian retailer often, usually buying music. “I’d rather it stay here. It’s convenient. Just about anything you want is here,” he said.

LifeWay will continue to sell products through its online store, LifeWay.com, and the LifeWay Customer Service Center (1-800-458-2772).

Mitchell said he would continue to shop at LifeWay once it becomes a virtual store, because he does have a computer, and he knows how to use it.

“My dad was born in 1902, and in his lifetime we went from mule-and-wagon to putting a man on the moon. He used to tell me, ‘In your lifetime, you have no idea what will change,’” Mitchell said.

A liquidation sale started Thursday at the Oxford store. The company anticipates that closing sales will last for two to three months, according to an FAQ on its website.

In the last decade, LifeWay — the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention — has seen its business move increasingly online, according to acting president and CEO Brad Waggoner.

“In one month, LifeWay interacts with five times as many people through its digital environments as it does through LifeWay stores. Our world and our customers are increasingly online,” Waggoner said in a statement.

The Oxford store opened in 2006, and is one of 10 LifeWay stores in Alabama.

“The decision to close our local stores is a difficult one,” Waggoner said. “LifeWay has developed close connections with the communities where our stores are located, and we have been honored to serve those communities. We will continue serving local congregations as they meet the spiritual needs of their neighbors.”

LifeWay is the latest of the major Christian retailers to close its physical stores. Family Christian Stores closed its retail stores — including a location at Quintard Mall in Oxford — in 2017.

About two-thirds of LifeWay stores will close by this summer, said Carol Pipes, director of corporate communications for LifeWay. Additional stores will close in the fall, then remaining stores by the end of the year. LifeWay stores are located primarily in the Southeast and Midwest.

Eric Brown, 35, of Anniston, was shopping in the Oxford LifeWay store on Tuesday with his three sons. He is a regular customer, purchasing something at the store about once a month for the past year or so. “I’m usually looking to see if they have something I’ve seen online,” he said.

Wait, isn’t that the opposite of what many people do these days?

Brown said he prefers to read in print, and he likes to actually flip through a book before buying it. He mainly buys study books at LifeWay, although on this particular day he was shopping for a gift.

In addition to Bibles and Christian books, the shelves at the Oxford LifeWay were filled with plaques, pillows (embroidered with “Oh for grace to trust him more”), jewelry, CDs, DVDs, T-shirts, VBS supplies and teaching supplies. There was a small section of Spanish-language products. In the back were racks of choir robes and shelves of clergy attire and communion wafers (regular and gluten-free).

Lovelle and Preston Buchanon of Jacksonville were also shopping at the store on Tuesday. “We’ll just have to go online — but not willingly,” Lovelle said. “Not everybody who shops here has the skills to go online, especially the elder generation.”

The Buchanons attend Abundant Life Church in Gadsden and have bought teaching supplies at LifeWay. “It’s easier for us to just come down here,” Lovelle said, rather than order online, pay for shipping, then wait on shipping.

“It’s the only Christian store we have in this community,” Preston said.

LifeWay began in 1891 as the Sunday School Board, established after the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham. Its first assignment was to publish Sunday school curriculum.

Now, 128 years later, LifeWay has introduced online Bible studies, worship planning, live streaming events and online training. The company is also hoping to use its digital presence to expand its reach globally, Waggoner said. LifeWay distributes resources in 164 countries in more than 60 languages.

Lisa Davis is Features Editor of The Anniston Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555 or ldavis@annistonstar.com.

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