, North Pacific Gleaner, and
Casting a new spotlight on the future of Adventist Book Centers, church leaders in the U.S. state of Washington have decided to put a struggling store up for sale in hope of finding an independent owner.
If a buyer is not found, the Washington Conference, the current owner, will phase the bookstore in Auburn, Washington, out of business in the near future and repurpose the building for ministry.
“We’ll do our best to find ways to still provide for the literature needs of our conference,” said Dennis R. Carlson, interim manager of the Auburn Adventist Book Center. “When a long-standing door closes, we believe God will open new opportunities as we continue to pray and seek God’s direction.”
The sell-or-close ultimatum is largely due to the changing purchase habits of Adventist readers and the general population, church leaders said. No longer dependent on brick-and-mortar stores, an increasingly large percentage of people are buying their books online, putting pressure on Adventist Book Centers and bookstores in general across the United States.
The AdventistBookCenter.com website has made Adventist books and materials easily accessible to all members throughout the country and beyond.
The decline in book sales also played a key role in a decision by the General Conference, the administrative body of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to close one of the church’s two publishing houses in the United States last year. Print operations at the Review and Herald Publishing Association in Hagerstown, Maryland, were closed, and some of its operations were transferred to the other North American publishing house, the Pacific Press Publishing Association in Nampa, Idaho.
The history of Adventist Book Centers traces back to the fall of 1868 when a small group of women began a prayer circle to petition God to work in the lives of their children, neighbors and friends. They formed the Vigilant Missionary Society in 1869 to share Adventist literature. This venture branched into the Tract and Missionary Society with global reach.
In 1924, Book and Bible Houses offered the first Adventist literature storefronts and grew into Adventist Book Centers by 1972, with a wider range of books and soybean-based health food products.
Before customer demand began to decline about a decade ago, these centers were successful in meeting not only the needs of Adventist members but also many community members.
Today, 45 Adventist Book Centers, all owned by conferences, operate in the United States, according to a directory on AdventistBookCenter.com. The directory lists a total of 87 Adventist Book Centers around the world.
The name "Adventist Book Center" can only be used by conferences and Pacific Press.
The Washington Conference regained ownership of the Auburn store on Feb. 14, 2014, after Pacific Press ceased managing 17 bookstores across the United States in an effort to refocus its mission. Pacific Press had managed the Auburn store for Washington Conference for eight years.
Throughout 2014, a special committee researched and examined a number of management models and opportunities for the future of the bookstore in western Washington. At a key transition point, the options were presented to the Washington Conference executive committee.
The executive committee reviewed the management options, financial trends, and the historic connection with Washington Conference members before voting in January 2015 to place the Auburn store on the market as an independently operated store.
Carlson said the sale included "inventory, equipment, and goodwill," not the building, which is fully owned by the Western Washington Corporation of Seventh-day Adventists. The corporation is willing to favorably negotiate building usage terms with the prospective buyer, who would also need to find a new name for the store.
An asking price has not been disclosed for the business, but the conference has invited interested parties to e-mail [email protected] by April 15.
Carlson said the conference was also open to the idea of partnering with another Adventist Book Center.
Even if the Auburn store closes, local Adventists will still find many of their favorite Adventist products available at special events such as camp meeting, church leaders said. Niche health foods, including Loma Linda and Worthington brands owned by Atlantic Natural Foods, will soon be available in a large national grocery retailer.
John Freedman, president of the Washington Conference, said the bookstore changes do not diminish the conference’s commitment to the distribution of Adventist materials.
“There are still opportunities for literature ministry distribution, and we are here to embrace the future,” he said. “The need to share our faith doesn’t change even if our way of managing this process adapts to meet the needs of our current marketplace. There could still be a place for a physical bookstore; we’re just not the ones to properly manage it.”