Cokesbury shuts Oklahoma stores
Closing day arrived April 13 for the two Cokesbury stores in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Nationally, all the bookstores will close by month’s end, as the retail division of the United Methodist Publishing House shifts to four other business channels:
To commemorate the years of ministry provided by the state stores, worship services were held April 13 in Tulsa and April 15 in Oklahoma City.
As the service began in the Oklahoma City store, a delivery man arrived to remove a few boxed remnants, bound for a liquidator.
"It was God’s gift for a season. We are thankful." In the almost-empty store, Frankye Johnson read aloud from the "Order for Disbanding." She is OKC-South District superintendent and dean of the Oklahoma Conference Cabinet. Also leading was David Wilson, Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference superintendent.
Rev. Johnson read, "It has accomplished a purpose of educating our children, youth, and adults. It has provided resources for … worship services and the due administration of God’s Word and Sacraments … the edification of believers and the conversion of the world."
In the final days of operation, merchandise discounts climbed to 90 percent.
Food gifts — chocolate, pizza, barbecue — arrived throughout the final week, expressing customer caring and also helping sustain staff during a difficult chapter, said manager Julie Wise. As of April 13, none of her four employees had secured new jobs, she said.
The worship included prayer "for blessings on their lives as they journey with You into the future."
"We give you thanks for their faithfulness, guidance, support, laughter, and stories," Johnson prayed.
Mike Hupp of Nashville said severance packages and job search assistance were being provided for all stores’ employees, even the newest ones. He is Cokesbury executive director of merchandising and worked at the Oklahoma City store in the waning days. Brian Maddy was the retailer’s closer in Tulsa. The decision to shutter all sites was announced Nov. 5.
"The cost of operating our stores is just so great" compared to other retail strategies, Hupp said. The denomination mandates that Cokesbury be self-sustaining. "Only 15 percent of our customer base shops exclusively at our stores."
Hupp said Cokesbury.com is "really ramping up" its online features. The call center expanded its hours and staffing. And the consultants welcome inquiries by phone or email.
Wise acknowledged some customers prefer a personal touch. "Call me; I’ll take your one-book order," she assured.
The first merchandising event for her will be the Youth Workers’ Gathering on April 26-27 at OKC-Church of the Servant. Then she will direct the Cokesbury sales during Annual Conference.
"The bishop has always been strong to recommend books" to feature in the store, Wise said. The retailer plans to continue seeking his input.