“We expect to close around two-thirds of our brick-and-mortar stores by the summer and the rest by the end of the year,” Carol Pipes, a spokesperson for Lifeway, told PW. “As LifeWay stores close, they will have sale and clearance specials.”
While LifeWay shifts its retail strategy to digital channels, it's business as usual at its B&H Publishing Group imprint, according to trade publisher Jennifer Lyell. “As a publisher, we are not making any changes to our publishing pipeline in response to our store closure," she said.
Lyell pointed out a distinction between LifeWay’s bricks-and-mortar store closures and that of Borders and Family Christian Stores. “In both of those instances the companies ceased operations and the customer engagement was lost,” she said. “We are taking a decidedly distinct path, always deepening our commitment to serve our customers in the ways that their shopping patterns reflect they are most comfortable,” via LifeWay.com and the LifeWay customer service center.
Information was unavailable about what percentage of LifeWay's sales are online, but according to Lyell, "online sales have increased every year," including a "significant spike" in 2018.
“We are looking toward a strong and long future in which LifeWay continues as both a publisher and retailer for the Christian publishing industry,” said Lyell.
Other Christian publishers and booksellers are bracing for LifeWay’s store closures, while one bookstore in particular is combating widespread predictions of doom. Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Mich. reported increased sales for the last 24 out of 26 months, according to store manager Sue Smith, and a new website featuring additional selection, original content such as author interviews, and promotions for special pricing is in the works.
“We have become a destination store because we’ve put an emphasis on creating an atmosphere and product selection that customers really want,” Smith said in a statement. “We’re embracing technology to meet customer needs, but also retaining that indie bookstore feel.”