A Retail Renaissance?

I spent some time with a recent research report from the ILH Group called “Retail’s Renaissance – True Story of Store Openings/Closings.” In this study, they looked at the last three years of all segments of brick-and-mortar retail stores and discovered some facts that counter what we hear in the news.

In the media, we only hear bad things about physical stores. Chains are closing, malls are dying, buyers are only buying online, etc. And yet, quoting from their August 13, 2019 press release:

More than five retail chains are opening stores for every retailer that is closing stores in 2019…. This is up from 3.7 in 2018. The company also reports that the number of chains adding stores in 2019 has increased 56%, while the number of closing stores has decreased by 66% in the last year….

Since 2017, apparel and department store chains have seen the net closure of 9,651 stores. During this same period, all other segments represented 18,226 net new openings.

The VP of research for the ILH Group said further:

“U.S. retail has increased $565 billion in sales since January of 2017, fed not just by online sales growth but net store sales growth,” said Lee Holman, VP of Research for IHL Group. “Clearly there is significant pressure in apparel and department stores, however, in every single retail segment there are more chains that are expanding their number of stores than closing stores.”

Of course one has to dig into the data to see what they are talking about. Retail, by their definition, includes any type of retail operation open to the public. Restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores, departments stores, and bookstores are among the data. (It is interesting to note that the Dollar Store chain is growing by leaps and bounds.)

Their bottom line is that retail is still alive and well in the U.S. It is simply changing to match consumer demand.

When we dig even deeper, we find that sports/hobby/bookstore sales are down 6.7%. No surprise there. We’ve all seen the shrinkage in Bass Pro Shops and the demise of various bookstore chains.

Which brings me to my point. We’ve all heard a lot these past few years, including on this blog, about the struggles of Christian retail. And yet this past week the Parable Group and the Covenant group in cooperation with “Get it Local Today” released an interactive map showing where to find one of 1,800 Christian bookstores around the U.S. While many of the locations might be small or run as a church bookstore, they are still there serving their communities. Below is the map and the link to the store finder:

Here is the link to the interactive map: Click Here

From the press release: “This database represents the largest online directory of verified independent Christian retailers today…. ‘These 1,800 retailers are important lighthouses—their communities need them, as do their Christian publishers and vendors,’ says Greg Squires, President of The Parable Group. ‘This research demonstrates that there is a substantial group of indies that should not be overlooked or abandoned.'”

I leave you with a thought and a picture of my grandson enjoying a local bookstore only a couple weeks ago.

So before we join the screaming masses and declare that all retail is dead, we need to dig a little to find a different story.





13 Responses to A Retail Renaissance?

  1. Avatar
    Terry Whalin August 19, 2019 at 4:50 am #


    Thank you for digging into the numbers and this post about retail. It was reassuring. Each of us as people who love books also need to support retail by going to bookstores and buying some of our books there. I often hear from other authors that they have not been in a physical bookstore in years and buy all their books on Amazon. We need to look at our own buying habits as a part of this situation.

    Straight Talk From the Editor

  2. Avatar
    Janine Rosche August 19, 2019 at 6:17 am #

    Any advice on how to get my books into those 1800 Christian booksellers since they will be published by a general market publisher’s inspirational line?

  3. Avatar
    Michael V. Howell August 19, 2019 at 6:49 am #

    This good news, but we have to not only increase access but create impactful
    connections to Christian fiction readers. There is 2.1 trillion dollars in Christian spending power and little is being put against Christian fiction outside of the rose and candy stuff as I call it…speculative Christian fiction IS the future of not only Christian literature but Christian film if we can convert to script and get it to Hollywood.

  4. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 19, 2019 at 6:50 am #

    Not for pockets hands were made,
    but to be clasped in unity;
    God’s will for others is obeyed
    through commerce in community.
    The tempting fortress in the glen
    that hides our hopes and hearts
    was made for shades, not for men,
    for we are all Christ’s parts.
    The agora is our native land,
    where eyes meet in faith well-shared;
    we learn to love, and understand
    the souls for whom He lived and dared.
    Grace walks in when we surrender
    our lives of solitary splendour.

  5. Avatar
    Colleen K Snyder August 19, 2019 at 8:00 am #

    Figures never lie, but liars figure… that was the assessment of my statistics teacher in college. Stats can be used to say almost anything if you swing them the right way. “Digging deeper” into any report is the key to finding truth. Thank you for exposing the truth! I love the map of the 1800 retailers. Loved even more the picture of your grandson enjoying a book!

  6. Avatar
    Sharon K Connell August 19, 2019 at 8:29 am #

    Thank you, Steve. Made my day. 🙂

  7. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan August 19, 2019 at 10:59 am #

    Ah, so worth sharing to those minds in total meltdown.

    thank you!

  8. Avatar
    Jeff Adams August 19, 2019 at 11:45 am #

    Thanks, Steve. That’s better than good news. You’re teaching we’re learning. What changes do you see in distribution? More competition for Ingram? More mass market from publishers? More non-bookstore retailers selling more books?

  9. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson August 19, 2019 at 12:18 pm #

    Good stuff. The Parable Group is doing interesting stuff. Glad to see it.

  10. Avatar
    Daphne Woodall August 19, 2019 at 12:19 pm #

    Interesting article. I looked at the Christian bookstore map and in an area of approximately 40 square mile radius the stores listed were all churches except one that was a used bookstore that closed two years ago. Unfortunately we lost our Lifeway a few months ago. I often visit bookstores if available.

    Retail wise in the Raleigh area which is surrounded by universities we have an abundance of openings of coffee shops and stores such as Publix, Lidl and now Wegmans. Restaurants flourish. Target, Walmart and Dollar stores draw consumers. Unfortunately two major malls in the area have seen anchor stores closing which I attribute to local competition and online ordering.

    There are specialty stores that attract those relocating to our state as well as the current population. Often college graduates from outside NC end up staying after graduation and I’ve seen the same with our seminary students. Housing is booming with homes selling within a week or less which means the population can support stores.

    There are secular bookstores like Barnes and Nobles as well as long-standing Quail Ridge Books which is known for their customer service and often hold author events but Christian authors are under represented.

    There is a market for our books. As an industry we need to do more to promote reading to young readers and the Christian market in general.
    Thanks for the report!

  11. Avatar
    H. Halverstadt August 19, 2019 at 5:41 pm #

    Thank you SO much, Steve! It’s been next to impossible to find these listings in my area. According to Google, only Lifeway and a few denominationally specific stores are in the area.

  12. Avatar
    Angela Breidenbach August 19, 2019 at 9:17 pm #

    We’ve been discussing this also over on the Christian Authors Network. We’re thrilled to have chatted with Parables about their interactive map and what it may do for booksellers into the future.

    They did ask for anyone knowing contact information for stores in their area to share with them so they can update the map faster. Right now they only have the contact and store hours updated on about 300-350 of those 1800+ stores as they call them one-by-one. I was able to update them on the closure of a store in my town. The more accurate they can make the map, the better tool it will be. Wahoo for their efforts!

    Some of those stores are church bookstores, and that means various sizes and sometimes limited hours. They’d like to clear up any confusion by sharing all that information, but it will take time to manage exactly how to tell us if it’s a small church bookstore only open Sunday mornings or if it’s a regular store open all week. Regardless, this is a great step in the right direction to get a big picture of our bookstore environment and culture.

    We, at CAN, feel it is an important tool that’s up and coming. We look forward to using it and encouraging others to use it. How wonderful to find a way to contact stores as authors and help us all reach readers as partners in community.
    —Angela Breidenbach, Christian Authors Network president

  13. Avatar
    Alma Schultz March 30, 2020 at 2:52 pm #

    Today, we find ourselves not in the midst of a retail apocalypse, but a retail renaissance. This renaissance means that brands must rethink consumer experience — and how to invest in it — to thrive.

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