Cokesbury Bookstore to close

By Caroline Klapper | Nov 19, 2012
Photo by: Caroline Klapper Cokesbury Bookstore at Lake Junaluska will be closing, although a final date has not been announced yet.

Haywood County’s last Christian bookstore, Cokesbury Bookstore at Lake Junaluska will soon be closing its doors after more than 40 years in the community.

The company made the decision to close all 57 of its local retail stores across the country, which includes 38 full-line stores and 19 seminary stores.

“The decision to close the local stores was not taken lightly or without prayerful consideration of all of the factors,” said Amy Campbell Smith, CAO/Associate to the president and publisher.

Among those factors is the rise of online and catalog sales, the decline of in-store sales and the rising costs of sustaining store operations.

Smith said sales at Cokesbury stores overall have dropped by about 50 percent in the last 10 years, and although the store’s location within the Lake Junaluska Assembly — owned and operated by the United Methodist Church — has been beneficial, sales there have been in a slow decline.

The store’s space is rented from Lake Junaluska Assembly, and the property will revert back to the retreat center once the store closes.

Most of the stock from the Cokesbury stores will be held at the company’s Nashville warehouse and made available for customers as they place online or catalog orders.

“Some items will be sold by the stores before closing, and other products may be donated to local ministries,” Smith said.

Cokesbury’s closing follows the closing of two other Christian bookstores in Haywood County, the Christian Bible Book Shop and Dalton’s Christian Bookstore.

It’s a trend that isn’t surprising to Jo Gilley, co-owner of Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville, who has seen first-hand the effects of Internet sales and the growing popularity of electronic book readers, such as the Kindle and Nook.

“Cokesbury closing is terrible. It’s just sad for everyone. We’re losing all our local bookstores and that’s sad,” Gilley said.

Although the Blue Ridge began stocking more Christian books and religious items with the closing of the other two stores in town this summer, she said they really don’t have the room or expertise to compare to the specialty stores.

“We’re trying to fill that niche, but we can’t equal what they did,” she said. “We always liked referring people there, and they were the last (Christian bookstore) to refer to.”

But the downturn in book sales hasn’t just been affecting Christian stores. Blue Ridge has been feeling the pinch, too.

“We’re dinosaurs, unfortunately. A large chunk of people are going to digital and a lot of it is convenience and price,” Gilley said, adding that increasingly online “big box” stores, such as, are also having a negative impact local bookstores.

Still, there are some that enjoy the community of the local small bookstore, and those are the customers Blue Ridge Books will continue to rely on.

“There will be people that always want to hold a book. Whether that’s enough buying locally, that remains to be seen,” Gilley said.

Since the closing of the other bookstores, sales in religious and inspirational books have picked up at Blue Ridge, and most customers are willing to wait for a special order if they don’t have a certain item in stock.

“They seem to be supportive of us. They want to keep it local, so we’re very happy about that,” she said.

The Cokesbury store currently employs two full-time and two part-time staff. No definite closing date has been announced, but Smith said the company would probably know by mid-December.

Smith said the decision to close the store is disappointing, but it’s not financially feasible to continue retail store operations.

“It is our aspiration and challenge to build new and ever better ways to serve our customers, and we remain dedicated to doing so,” she said. “We thank everyone for their support over the years. This has been a long and valued partnership.”