The International Christian Retail Show (July 15-18) wrapped up last week in Orlando, Fla., with a small uptick in total attendance (1.5%) to 4,990. (Last year’s attendance in Atlanta had been up 10% over 2010.) Orlando also was the site of the show in 1999, when attendance reached more than 14,000, but like their secular brethren the decade before, many Christian stores have closed since then in the face of increased competition from general market outlets and online sales. However, although 44 stores closed in 2011, according to CBA executive director Curtis Riskey, aspiring retailers continue to follow their dream—twice as many stores opened in 2011 (32) as in 2010, and the number of professional attendees at the convention—primarily buyers—rose slightly this year (.05%), to 1,756. CBA membership remains stable, at 1,100, according to Riskey.

Asked whether the show might be held in smaller venues in the future, Riskey said, “We’re attacking our costs of the convention and looking at all opportunities. But we are committed several years out.” The association continues to launch new events and initiatives. The inaugural Resonate Film Festival included 14 films that were screened or announced; winners included Home Run directed by David Boyd and produced by Carol Matthews and Tom Newman, which won in both the Best Feature and Best Inspirational categories. Blessing, Curse, or Coincidence (Hatikvah Film Trust), directed and produced by Hugh Kitson, won for Best Documentary.

For the first time this year the exhibit floor featured “Debut” aisles for new exhibitors in books, gifts, and music, as well as an exhibit promoted CBA’s fair trade initiative, which was announced at the General Session on Sunday afternoon. Christine Caine, founder with her husband of the A21 Campaign, an anti-human trafficking organization, spoke on the topic of fair trade and living wages. Her organization assists women in finding jobs that rescue them from prostitution. Christian retailers were urged to sell fair trade products to help support this kind of work, by A1 and other groups. Also new this year were three “connection centers” in meeting rooms off the show floor: the Catholic Connection Center, Special Ministries Connection Center, and Church Store Connection Center. Convention-goers could meet there to see suppliers, discuss issues with peers, and attend workshops.

While ICRS, like BEA, is no longer a place where publishers write orders, it remains important in other ways. Booksellers appreciate the educational programs, the special events, and the camaraderie with their peers. Said Becky Gorczyca, executive director of the 19-store Association of Logos Bookstores, "It is still the best place each year to meet with publishers and gift and media suppliers, meet authors and artists face to face, meet with retailers and learn from quality educational seminars." Being able to do that in one place, at one time, she said, "keeps travel costs low and time away from the stores at a minimum. We schedule our Logos Annual Conference prior to ICRS for the same reason."

Publishers find ICRS a good place to meet and network with others in the industry. Barbara J. Sherrill, v-p of marketing for Harvest House, said the show was valuable for the ability to interact with fellow publishers, its own authors, and international business connections. “We’re an Oregon company, off the beaten path,” Sherrill said. “We get to see our peers here.” Lorraine Caulton, senior marketing manager at InterVarsity Press, agreed: “People come by even if they’re not purchasing. It’s great face time for everybody. I’m always excited about the connections that are made.” (International attendance was down 14.6% this year, a result, said Riskey, of "the price of international travel combined with difficult global economies and economic uncertainty.")

Dave Lewis, v-p of sales and marketing for the Baker Publishing Group, also expressed appreciation for the opportunities for meetings and networking that ICRS provides. “That’s why we need this show,” he said. There has been some good news for retailers lately: Lewis noted that Baker’s fourth quarter sales were down 8% last year, primarily because retailers were not confident of Christmas sales and ordered less. “But they had a really good Christmas,” he said, and sales have rebounded; returns are also down for Baker. Distributors at the show were similarly upbeat, telling PW their businesses are growing, with more retailers turning to them because of tighter inventories, Internet sales, POD, and fewer reps calling on stores.

A topic of some discussion at ICRS was the HarperCollins acquisition of Thomas Nelson, which closed just before the show. There was talk among publishers of how the deal would affect on the industry, though none expressed any trepidation about the competition, and Zondervan staffers said they had not been asked about it as much as they expected.

The Common English Bible celebrated its first birthday with cupcakes and a new iteration: the CEB Deep Blue Kids Bible, for children ages 8-12. It uses the CEB translation, adding 3-D artwork and age-appropriate study apparatus that includes three CGI-drawn characters who reappear in full-color illustrations through the text. “This is the kind of art that children see,” said associate publisher Paul Franklyn. “They’re not going to relate to that 19th-century pageant look.” The Bible will be available September 1, with a first printing of 80,000 and an advertising budget of $600,000. The publisher is targeting Christian educators, as well as parents and grandparents and the home-school market. A Web site launching mid-August will contain resources for parents that promote family reading. “The Methodists got going by teaching people to read,” Franklyn noted.

Christian retailers recognized the market’s best products at the Retailers Choice Awards ceremony on Tuesday. Top winners Baker Publishing Group, David C. Cook, and Zondervan each won six awards. Winners were selected from among 300-plus products nominated in 41 categories; the contest is sponsored by Christian Retailing magazine. (See a complete list of winners.)

Tyndale House marks its 50th anniversary this year, and Tyndale President Mark Taylor (son of founder Ken Taylor) spoke on the history and roots of the company at the Monday CBA members luncheon, where attendees received copies of The Tyndale House 50th Anniversary Reader. Moody Publishers marked the 20th anniversary of the publication of perennial bestseller The 5 Love Languages with cake and stamped chocolate bars at its booth. About 35 people gathered as author Gary Chapman spoke, then lined up as Chapman signed his latest book, The 5 Love Languages of Children (Jan.).