In a move that General Synod said was meant to save the Anglican Book Centre (ABC) from being shut down, six of its employees were laid off last September and the bookstore’s hours trimmed.
“The future of the book centre was on the line,” said the primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, in an address to staff on Sept. 20.
“If we couldn’t come up with a viable plan that would have balanced the bottom line there would have been a distinct possibility that we would have closed (ABC),” said General Synod treasurer Peter Blachford in an interview. “The plan was to ensure ABC’s continuance because it’s a very valuable resource for the church.” He said that Management Team – the national office’s department heads – had a mandate from the church’s finance committee “to ensure that we were staying in the black.” In 2003, ABC lost $370,252; in 2004, it lost $306,892.
Book centre manager Dan Benson said several factors – including a long, drawn- out move – contributed to the difficulties faced by ABC. Mr. Benson also noted that ABC – which Toronto Life magazine identified as the oldest bookstore in the city – has, until recently, been a net contributor to General Synod’s bottom line. “We have sent a total of $1.38 million to General Synod in the five years before 2003,” he said. This year, the bookstore is recovering, he said. “I see us either breaking even or making a small profit in 2005,” said Mr. Benson.
In fall, 2003, the national office scheduled a move to new quarters at 80 Hayden St., a half block from the old office at 600 Jarvis St. General Synod financial managers directed the bookstore to liquidate inventory at sale prices in order to bolster cash flow and to reduce the amount of inventory to be moved. Due to construction delays, however, the move did not take place until June 2004.
Many customers had stocked up at sale prices and sales did not pick up in 2004, said Mr. Benson. The store also had to spend to restock its inventory. Additionally, he said, “we moved from an address where we had been established for 70 years to a back street with less parking.” Some 40 per cent of the bookstore’s sales result from walk-in traffic, he noted.
Last summer, General Synod’s managers asked a consultant, Tom Sperling (formerly of Augsberg Fortress publishing), to evaluate ABC’s operations.
The Anglican Journal requested a copy of the report but Mr. Blachford said that management team decided not to release it, saying it is not a public document and that it was only one factor in management’s decisions.
The report, subsequently obtained by the Journal, stated that ABC revenues were down partly because accounting fees from General Synod’s financial management department were too high. In 2004, ABC set aside $150,000 for accounting fees and in 2005, $80,000.
Mr. Blachford said that while the fees may have been “a little too high, they weren’t dramatically too high.” He added: “ABC up until this year had only paid less than half the cost to the accounting fees because the rest of it was in the treasurer’s budget.” This year, auditors have said, fees would have to be charged to ABC.
The report also described the financial reporting and budgeting as “inconsistent” and did not give ABC managers an accurate picture of their finances. Mr. Blachford said that while he found the financial statements to be accurate, he acknowledged that their timing “has not been good,” as has also been the case with statements for other departments.
Also recommended was the creation of a director of ABC who is at the same level as management team (two different directors oversee the work of ABC) and improvements in the system such as “cross-training” of ABC staff between the store and its warehouse to reduce expenses.
Mr. Blachford said some of the report’s recommendations were adopted but that in the end, “the underlining concept that we (used was) to look at ensuring that we get to keep a valuable part of church operational within the dollars available.” He said “a great deal” of the decline could be attributed to a weakened market. “The market for the product that we’re selling through ABC has changed. It’s not only changed, people have changed the way they buy; they’re not buying as much as the economy is not as good as it was,” he said. He said that the average parish had more money in the past than now.
ABC is aggressively pursuing recovery. It will soon launch a new Web site with online ordering capability. It has expanded its distribution business, signing agreements with such religious publishers as Church Publishing in the United States and marketing to other denominations. The store also began a new program of events such as evening workshops on spirituality and work.
ABC is a retailer of books (including the Book of Alternative Services), vestments, cards and church supplies. “For a large portion of the country, we are the face of the national office,” said Mr. Benson. It is now closed Saturdays and open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.