Augsburg Fortress closes U.S. stores, maintains Canadian operations

By on November 12, 2008

Augsburg Fortress, the publishing ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), recently announced the closure of its nine bookstores in the United States, but said that its two Canadian bookstores, including Augsburg Fortress/Anglican Book Centre (ABC) in Toronto, would remain open.

A store at the ELCA’s Luther seminary, St. Paul, Minn., that is not owned by Augsburg Fortress, will continue to rent space there and to market resources to congregations.

Citing “significant changes in its business operations,” Augsburg Fortress announced Nov. 7 that it was closing its bookstores by April 2009, and eliminating 55 positions, including four in Canada. The changes will, however, involve adding 13 positions to the company’s information technology, marketing, and sales operations, said Augsburg Fortress in a news release.”The publisher will focus its ministry on its ‘two most important callings – group-use materials for congregations, such as faith formation and worship materials, and textbooks and monographs for higher education,” said Beth Lewis, Augsburg Fortress president and chief executive officer. “There’s no plan to close the Canadian stores. We’re fortunate in that we are self-sustaining,” said Andy Seal, Augsburg Fortress Canada director. He also said that there is “a very different scenario” with regards to ABC, adding that the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod still controls the publishing of Anglican resources. General Synod treasurer Peter Blachford said that he has been assured by Mr. Seal that the needs of Anglicans would continue to be met even with the elimination of four positions, including that of the congregational sales representative, whose job includes helping dioceses meet their needs in terms of church supplies, Sunday School curricula and books. “That job will be covered by existing people.” Augsburg Fortress assumed full control of ABC in June 2007 under an agreement that allowed it to operate the bookstore for a trial period of three years. Its other bookstore is in Kitchener, Ont.

Under the renewable arrangement, General Synod receives an annual revenue of $31,000 from Augsburg for rent of the Augsburg Fortress/ABC operation and the lease of the store’s name. The deal avoided the planned closure of the ABC storefront – which had lost money in recent years – in favour of an Internet and telephone-based retail operation. In its news release, Augsburg Fortress said the changes, approved at a regular meeting of its board of trustees last Oct. 24 to 25 in Minneapolis, were based on a year of analysis of market and business research. Under the revised business model, Augsburg Fortress will no longer provide bookstore operations at synod assemblies and most ELCA churchwide events. It will instead work in partnership with synods and offer services to teach members about new resources and faith formation teaching techniques, said the news release. “This adds value for synods and for us,” it said. “Giving envelopes and worship supplies, such as communion wafers and cups, and candles, will still be available. Items that don’t sell well will be dropped.” At its board meeting, Ms. Lewis said, “We questioned whether we should be in all markets or whether denominational publishing is viable.” She said that the board had suggested that the publishers’ leadership team “start with a blank sheet of paper and rethink the company’s priorities for the future.” She added: “Augsburg Fortress is undergoing important strategic changes to focus our ministry and business – and some are very painful on a personal level as we say goodbye to wonderful colleagues. We are confident that, while difficult, these changes are necessary and will enable Augsburg Fortress to be a strong and responsive organization for the future.” Augsburg Fortress has 242 full-and-part-time staff. Ms. Lewis said laid-off employees would remain on the payroll through the end of the year, and some, well into 2009; it is also providing them with outplacement services.

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