Covenant Bookstore Restructuring Announced

Post a Comment » Written on March 28th, 2006     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (March 28, 2006) – A restructuring of both Covenant Bookstore, operated by the Evangelical Covenant Church, and the campus store that services student textbooks and campus merchandise, operated in partnership with North Park University, has been jointly announced by the denomination and the university.

Under the restructuring plan, sales of textbooks, campus clothing and merchandise and other campus supplies will be handled in a new location on the North Park campus. Sales of Covenant publications (i.e. hymnals, confirmation curriculum) and other Covenant resources will be handled through the existing online bookstore at Covenant Bookstore. The physical store location at Foster and Kedzie avenues will close, most likely by the end of June, but no later than August 31.

The restructuring comes in part as a response to a changing competitive environment, with the growth of Internet-based sales of Christian books, merchandise and textbooks resulting in unsatisfactory financial results for the bookstore and undermining its viability. It also comes in response to a growth in campus enrollment, which has created the need for additional classrooms and office space. Both of these changes require reassessment of the way in which limited ministry dollars and campus space are utilized.

“A decision like this is especially difficult to reach, given the long and proud history of Covenant Bookstore and the long-standing partnership with the university in servicing the needs of students,” the joint statement reads. Covenant Bookstore opened in 1910 and has operated in its present location, which is owned by North Park University, under a lease arrangement since 1966.

“The church and the university owe a debt of gratitude to the many dedicated individuals on staff who have worked very hard to maintain a fine Christian retail and university bookstore operation,” the statement continues. “The closing of the bookstore is a great loss not only to the neighborhood to which it has ministered for so many years, but also to the many thousands of students and parents who have depended on the store as well as local Covenant churches and congregants. Every effort is being made to ensure that local churches and the student population will continue to be served in appropriate ways.”

The restructuring plan, developed by a joint panel representing both the denomination and the university, was recently approved by the Finance and Communication Committees of the Executive Board. The move came in response to a series of increasing annual losses, despite tight expense controls and a number of creative revenue enhancement initiatives.

“A number of competitive forces converged over time to undermine the store’s viability,” says Don Meyer, executive minister of the Department of Communication of which the bookstore was a part. Internet-based sales played a significant role, especially for students purchasing textbooks, despite a price-matching guarantee in place for North Park students. Large chains like Walmart also are a factor, having expanded their in-store religious book sections and offering popular titles at heavily discounted prices.

“Under bookstore manager Jeff Lennard’s capable leadership, the bookstore staff worked diligently to compete with a changing retail environment,” Meyer noted. “This is a talented and highly dedicated team. They are very good at what they do. The store reflects breadth, quality and a unique blend of specialty books and gift items not found in most Christian bookstores. However, they have been battling competitive changes over which they have had limited or no control. The absence of this store at Kedzie and Foster is going to be a major loss not only to the immediate neighborhood, but to the larger community and church. It is a sad day.”

Some of the full-time staff have a lengthy history with the store, including Mary Kainovic, who has been part of the bookstore ministry for more than 23 years. The staff has seven full-time individuals, including Kim Rivera, Jessica Stanley, Ray Steiner, Bobbie Zerfas and Nicholas White, in addition to Lennard and Kainovic. Other staff include long-time employee Eleanor Bray and a number of part-time individuals, many students.

“They are not just employees – they are family,” Meyer notes. “The level of customer service and care went beyond what one might expect from a good store, and that’s because for this team, it has been more about ministry than business. The loss of this talented team is the greatest loss of all.”

Two primary concerns going forward are the well-being and futures of the staff as well as continuing to service the needs of local Covenant churches and individuals, Meyer notes.

“The first priority has been to work with staff to secure new positions.” Two major affiliated employers in the area have agreed to interview staff members, who are also being assisted by the Covenant’s Human Resources Department. Opportunities also may be available through normal attrition in other Covenant ministry areas.

A second priority is servicing local Covenant churches, conferences and other affiliated institutions with Covenant-related resources, such as Covenant hymnals, the Covenant Book of Worship, confirmation curriculum, and a variety of other material. “The online bookstore has been growing each year since its inception,” Meyer notes. “While ordering online represents a change for some churches and individuals accustomed to walking into the physical bookstore in Chicago, the online store has worked well for many other churches and individuals who frequent it on a regular basis. They find it convenient to order online, pay by credit card and have the order shipped to their door.”

The current toll-free telephone line also will continue as a means of ordering materials (800-621-1290). Other details of the transition phase will be addressed by a special task group that has been formed.

The university is pursuing plans to redevelop space on campus to house a smaller campus store, which will handle sales of textbooks as well as campus merchandise, most likely under contract with an outside vendor. Covenant Resource Center likewise is expected to relocate at some point. More detailed information will be posted to this online Covenant news report and published in The Covenant Companion as plans are firmed.

“Covenant Bookstore has long been an important part of our ministry, serving both our own people and the community around us,” says President Glenn Palmberg. “Unfortunately, the viability of a small, independent bookstore has become a real challenge in an age of the Internet and mega stores, and it finally became a stewardship question for us. I am glad, though, that the core of the ministry will continue in new ways, capitalizing especially on our existing, strong Internet capacity. Most of all, I am deeply grateful for all who have given so much through the years to make Covenant Bookstore such an excellent institution.”

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

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