Nation’s largest Christian retail chain to open on Sundays

DALLAS- In a sign of how much America’s traditional day of rest has changed, Family Christian Stores _ the nation’s largest Christian retail chain _ will open Sundays starting this weekend.

The change at Family Christian’s 315 stores in 39 states will make Bibles and Christian resources available on “the day that Christians most attend to their spiritual needs,” said Dave Browne, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company.

Over the past month, Family Christian tested its plan to open from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays in 18 Dallas-Fort Worth area stores and reported a positive response from customers.

“I just think there’s something about your spiritual needs being met on a Sunday that some people don’t want to wait until Monday,” district manager Dan Morano said.

While company officials tout the “ministry” aspect of the change, experts say it reflects sweeping social changes. More women in the work force and the softening and repealing of “blue laws” across the nation have made Sunday as much a day of activity and commerce as worship and relaxation.

Historically, Sunday blue laws _ called such because they were written on blue paper _ forbid the sale of cigarettes, alcohol and other items. The laws also prohibited secular amusements and unnecessary work.


“With an increasingly large fraction of women with regular business-week employment, the effect of that is to essentially eliminate Monday through Friday as viable options for them doing their shopping,” said David A. Laband, an Auburn University economist and author of “Blue Laws: The History, Economics and Politics of Sunday-Closing Laws.”

“There’s been a significant movement over the last 40 to 50 years of replacing Monday-through-Friday shopping with Saturday and Sunday shopping,” he said.

Still, some companies _ such as Atlanta-based Chick-Fil-A restaurants and Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby stores _ say they will resist the temptation of opening on Sunday.

“We don’t have any arguments with anybody who’s open on Sunday. We don’t judge them. This is what we feel like is right for us,” said David Green, whose family-owned company operates 309 Hobby Lobby stores in 27 states and 19 Mardel Christian & Educational Supply stores in five states.

Hobby Lobby, founded in 1972, once opened on Sundays. It abandoned the practice a few years ago, immediately losing $100 million in annual sales, Green said.

But since then, God has blessed the $1 billion-a-year company with growth and success, he said.

Likewise, Chick-Fil-A _ with 1,100 restaurants in 36 states _ believes closing on Sunday has helped recruit better employees. They enjoy having a day off to worship, if they choose, or just spend time with friends and relatives, company spokesman Don Perry said.

Chick-Fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, a Baptist Sunday school teacher, “certainly understands the business position of companies that operate on Sunday,” Perry said.

“He flies a lot of airplanes on Sundays and eats at a lot of other restaurants,” Perry said. “He’s just been fortunate _ and you could even use the term blessed _ operating with the policy guidelines that we have.”

Family Christian’s Browne makes a distinction between his company’s products and those of Chick-Fil-A.

“We do things that will help people find, grow or share their faith,” he said, “and that’s very different from a chicken sandwich.”

But officials with LifeWay Christian Stores, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn., say a Christian CD is no different than a chicken sandwich: It can wait until Monday.

“Even orders that are placed by customers on Sunday through our Web site are not processed until Monday,” said Rob Phillips, spokesman for LifeWay, which has 119 stores in 21 states.

In a national survey of Family Christian consumers, 80 percent said they shop on Sundays and 89 percent said they would shop the same or more frequently if the retailer extended store hours to Sunday, the company said. In addition, a cross-denominational survey of churches found that many have their own bookstores that open on Sunday.

Some customers at a Family Christian store in the Dallas suburb of Irving were split on the change.

“I think they should have a day to honor God and rest,” said Barbara Houser, a 57-year-old DeSoto woman who was looking for a gift for her grandson’s Christian school auction.

But Christine Mwangi, 23, of Arlington said it would be convenient to stop by Family Christian after church on Sundays.

“This is how I rest is always coming here and looking for music and reading some books,” said Mwangi, a church soloist who was buying the soundtracks to “Come As You Are” and “I Still Believe.”

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Associated Press, USA
Sep. 26, 2003
Bobby Ross
www.caller.com

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