CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Archie Snedegar was surprised to learn that the Cokesbury religious bookstore in downtown Charleston will be closing its doors.
"I find it more valuable to come in and see with my own eyes," said Snedegar, interim pastor at Calvary Baptist Church on the West Side and a minister for the past 50 years.
"I've ordered online, but you're not able to see [what you're buying] with clarity and specificity."
On Nov. 5, the United Methodist Publishing House, which operates 38 Cokesbury Bible bookstores and 19 seminary stores in 25 states, announced it was closing its brick-and-mortar facilities to concentrate on online and telephone sales. Officials for the United Methodist Church say the change is due to declining customer visits at the local stores.
Church officials said all stores will be closed by April 30, 2013. The closure will affect 185 full-time and 100 part-time employees, although church officials have promised to provide severance packages and outplacement services for displaced workers.
Revenue from the physical stores has dropped by 50 percent over the past 10 years, according to church leaders, and it now costs more to keep the stores open than they bring in.
But if store visits are down nationally, it wasn't evident at the downtown Charleston store on Friday. The Washington Street store seemed to have a steady stream of customers as patrons learned about the imminent closing.
Snedegar, who said he visits the Washington Street store both regularly and consistently, was distressed by news that the store will be closing.
"I'm like a vacuum cleaner," Snedegar said, always sucking up new material to spice his sermons and season his own education. While there are other religious bookstores in the area, "this is probably the finest," he said. "This seems to have a better selection of material and books."
Snedegar said the staff at Cokesbury are knowledgeable and friendly. "It's just a wonderful place to come and peruse the bookshelves," he said.
Store staff don't have an exact date for the location's closure. Cokesbury will continue to sell religious materials online at www.cokesbury.com through sales representatives or through the Cokesbury Call Center at 1-800-672-1789.
The chain derives its name from Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, early Methodist leaders in America.
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.