Kenneth Mitchell was the first kid I met in pre-school at Munford Elementary back in 1976, and we’ve been friends ever since.
Growing up, he introduced me to comic books and MAD magazine and silly jokes. After high school, he moved to Texas, and, though we communicate on Facebook and try to get together whenever he’s in town, it’s not the same as getting to hang out whenever we feel like it.
That’s how I imagine it’s going to be when the LifeWay Christian bookstore closes in the Oxford Exchange in a few months.
LifeWay Christian Resources recently announced that it will close all 170 of its brick-and-mortar stores by the end of the year, according to a report by The Star’s Lisa Davis. The company will continue to sell products through its online store, LifeWay.com, and the LifeWay Customer Service Center (1-800-458-2772).
But that won’t be the same as being able to walk in and shop in person, to physically check out the merchandise before you buy it.
In addition to Bibles and Christian books, their merchandise includes plaques, pillows, jewelry, CDs, DVDs, T-shirts, VBS supplies, teaching supplies, racks of choir robes, shelves of clergy attire and communion wafers.
There’s also a small section of Spanish-language products.
As a pastor, I’ve been a frequent customer at LifeWay over the years.
I’ve purchased more than a couple of Bibles at the Oxford store. I find that different versions help me gain different insights. LifeWay also carries a great variety of Bible covers.
I’ve purchased dictionaries, concordances and other study guides at LifeWay. It’s also where I bought the minister’s manual that I use to conduct ceremonies like weddings, funerals and communion.
A couple of years ago, I purchased “I Am A Church Member” by Thom S. Rainer for a Sunday school series, and I still refer to it often.
When I identified two men as candidates for deacon, I bought them books on deaconship from LifeWay, and we have relied on LifeWay’s Oxford location for vacation Bible school materials.
When I self-published a book of faith columns, LifeWay (along with the former Family Christian Bookstore at Quintard Mall) was kind enough to make it available through in-store orders.
Also, because my church is in need of a piano player, we often take advantage of the store’s music service where they make CD copies of instrumental versions of Christian songs. Our choir sings along with the recorded music, and it has become a vital part of our Sunday worship.
My most recent purchase was a white baptism robe that I used to baptize three young believers at my church. I walked right in and bought it the day before the baptism. I don’t doubt that all the products and more will be available online, but I’m going to miss that kind of in-person convenience.
And, gauging from the social media response to The Star’s report, I’m not alone. The story about LifeWay closing its physical store had been shared almost 200 times and had almost 100 comments only hours after it was posted.
“I am so sad! I love the store!”
“I know we are so sad”
“Shop locally and support your hometown merchants before they’re gone and so are your choices”
“... go by there and see if we need anything. This makes me sad!”
It’s a regrettable development, but one that could be seen coming from a mile away. Customers’ changing habits dictate such business decisions, and the internet has increasingly been a key factor.
“In one month, LifeWay interacts with five times as many people through its digital environments as it does through LifeWay stores,” CEO Brad Waggoner said in a statement. “Our world and our customers are increasingly online.”
LifeWay has 10 stores in Alabama, and all will be closed by the end of the year. The Oxford store, which opened in 2006, started its liquidation sale on Thursday and it will likely last for two or three months.
During that time, I’ll probably drop by more than a couple of times to see what deals I can find. After that, I’ll adjust to doing my Christian bookstore shopping dot.com style.
But I can’t say I’m not going to miss being able to make last-minute purchases, or check out the merchandise before checking out, or simply use a little spare time to hang out with an old friend.
Anthony Cook is the executive editor of Consolidated Publishing. firstname.lastname@example.org.