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World's largest' Christian retailer suddenly announces plan to shutter its stores

Copies of the New International Version Bible are displayed in a book store in Nashville, Tenn. Family Christian Stores announced this week it would close all of its stores nationwide. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Family Christian Stores announced this week that it will close all of its stores nationwide.

The Christian retailing company announced Thursday that it had faced declining sales ever since it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2015 and therefore will have to shut down. According to USA Today, the non-profit company employed more than 3,000 people in 240 stores nationwide.

"We have had two very difficult years, and after prayerfully looking at all possible options, and trusting God’s plan for our organization, we have made the difficult decision to close our stores. Family Christian will begin the closing process soon," Family Christian President and CEO Chuck Bengochea said in a letter to customers.

Bengochea added in a statement that the company — which bills itself as the "world's largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise" — was not able to attain "the pricing and terms" needed from vendors to "successfully compete in the market."

"We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God's plan for our organization and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse," he said.

Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the company did not offer a specific timetable for its store closures.

An employee at the store's flagship store in Grand Rapids tearfully told MLive.com that employees were not authorized to speak to the media about Family Christian's announcement and instead referred the reporter to the news release.

"We just lost our jobs right now, and we can't talk," an employee said.

Following its bankruptcy reorganization, Family Christian gave $127 million of its debt to suppliers, creditors and consignment vendors, MLive.com reported. It was also sold for $55 million to a group that said it would continue the company's non-profit status.

Family Christian began in 1931 in a farmhouse in Grandville, Michigan by brothers Bernie and Pat Zondervan, its website says.

Zondervan Corp. became one of the nation's largest Christian publishing house. Zondervan is an imprint of Harper Collins.

And while the Family Christian's website includes a link to Bengochea's letter, it does not include the store closings on its timeline of events.

The latest event was in 2014, when Family Christian said customers were able to help the retailer raise $166,556 for Destiny Rescue, a nonprofit that helps sex trafficking victims in the Dominican Republic.

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