Family Christian closing all stores including 2 in Fort Wayne

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — After 85 years, West Michigan-based retailer Family Christian is closing its doors. There are two locations of the store in Fort Wayne, one at Coldwater Road and one at Jefferson Pointe.

The announcement came Thursday, two years after the not-for-profit company filed for bankruptcy, and caught loyal customers by surprise.

“I’ve had some trials and really hard times in my life,” said Karen King-Gilchrist, who was shopping at the Family Christian store on Rivertown Parkway in Grandville, Michigan Thursday. “And even today,  I needed to be in the atmosphere. … It’s refuge, to come and to pray and to have the inspiration of the Lord touch you.”

King-Gichrist and her mother Barbara King are longtime customers of what’s billed as the world’s largest Christian-themed retailer, with 240 locations in 36 states employing over 3,000 people.

But times changed. In February 2015, Family Christian filed for reorganization under Chapter 11. While it improved product variety and the in-store experience, Family Christian leaders say sales for the company continued to slide. Vendors didn’t provide price breaks the company had hoped for.

In the end, changing customer behavior and continued sales declines led to the decision to close.

“We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God’s plan for our organization, and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse,” said Family Christian President Chuck Bengochea in a Thursday news release.

While there are other sources for Christian merchandise, like the internet, customers like King-Gilchrist say it’s just not the same.

“I don’t want to talk to my keyboard,” said said. “I want someone to say, ‘If you come over here, this is a real inspirational book when you’re feeling down, when you’re feeling alone.’”

The company has not said when going-out-of-business sales will begin at West Michigan’s seven Family Christian stores.