Augsburg Fortress in talks to take over Anglican Book Centre

Published February 16, 2007

Negotiations are in progress that could allow the Anglican Book Centre’s storefront operation in Toronto to remain open.

Lutheran church bookseller Augsburg Fortress Canada is negotiating to take over the operations of the Anglican Book Centre, a move that would allow the Anglican retailer’s storefront operation in Toronto to remain open.

The Anglican Church of Canada’s communications and information resources committee on Feb. 9 unanimously endorsed the talks, which began late last year. Last October, an Anglican committee reviewing the church’s work and budget recommended the store’s closure in favor of an Internet and telephone-based retail operation.

“This would become a real win-win scenario. Customers could still come in to 80 Hayden Street (in Toronto) and be served by the same staff. (Augsburg Fortress) would pay us rent. We would receive revenue from the leasing of our name and have no financial risk,” said Anglican church treasurer Peter Blachford in an interview. He added that Augsburg Fortress would carry volumes produced by ABC Publishing, the centre’s publishing arm, but declined to disclose financial terms.

Cautioning that negotiations were still in progress, Augsburg Fortress Canada director Andy Seal noted that one example of savings would come from merging customer lists and product lines. “It would mean the store itself would not close. That is a tremendous bookstore with a long and storied history. (Its closing) would be a tremendous loss to Toronto and the entire region,” he said in an interview from Augsburg Fortress Canada’s offices in Kitchener, Ont.

“It is important that everybody understand it has a tremendous staff. They are passionate, knowledgeable and helpful. It’s not that they have been doing something wrong and we know how to fix it. Working together, we can make it work. My hope is to keep the staff and their expertise and knowledge,” he added.
Mr. Seal said he contacted Anglican church managers after an announcement in the fall of 2005 that six Anglican Book Centre staff would be laid off due to declining sales. “I said we went through it (financial issues) a number of years ago and I offered any support I could give. I ended up meeting with them and giving them advice on how we had managed to right our ship,” he said.

At the time, said Mr. Blachford, talks did not proceed further and last fall, one of the Anglican church’s governing bodies, the Council of General Synod, approved the closure of the storefront. Both Mr. Blachford and Mr. Seal said they hoped negotiations could be wrapped up by June, when both churches will hold their national conventions in Winnipeg. The Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) in 2001 forged a closer relationship called Full Communion.

Augsburg Fortress Canada is a non-profit operation whose mission supports the ELCIC, but it is self-sustaining and not subsidized by the church. It does not return a cash dividend to the Lutheran church, but supports it through such actions as advertising in the church’s Canada Lutheran magazine, said Mr. Seal.

The Canadian operation is wholly-owned by Minneapolis-based Augsburg Fortress, one of the largest Christian publishing and retailing houses in North America, with annual sales of about $40 million US, said Mr. Seal. It owns 11 bookstores in North America (with one located in Kitchener) and is in partnership with 14 bookstores in the U.S.

It was formed in 1988 when three Lutheran churches merged in the U.S., but traces its roots back to 1811 and the first issue of Das Evangelische Magazin published by the Lutheran Ministerium in Pennsylvania.

(A correction has been made to this story. Augsburg Fortress was spelled incorrectly in the earlier version.)


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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