HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A new bookstore opened in Holland on Thursday amid a slew of controversy.

Ahead of the grand opening Thursday, Downtown Holland posted information about the Family Central bookstore to social media. The post was met with hundreds of comments from people upset that the bookstore was coming to the area.

Several comments accused the faith-based organization behind the store, Focus on the Family, of supporting anti-LGBT policy and rhetoric, and things like conversion therapy.

“With the progress we’ve had here in Holland, supporting not only the LGBTQ+ community but diversity equity and inclusion, it’s a bit of a disappointment to the LGBTQ+ community at large to learn that a group like Focus on the Family is now going to have a much stronger presence here in Holland,” said Jeffrey Sorenson, the director of LGBTQ advocacy group Out on the Lakeshore.

The Out on the Lakeshore community center. (File)

Sorenson says anti-LGBTQ stances are not representative of the greater Holland community.

“The Family Central store opening is one small part of what really makes up Holland and the community at large,” said Sorenson. “There’s so many other businesses in the area that are supportive, open and affirming.”

Several also criticized Downtown Holland’s decision to promote the business. The Downtown Organization issued the following statement as a result:

The Downtown Holland Principal Shopping District is funded by an annual tax assessment levied against all properties within our district boundaries “to promote, encourage, stimulate, preserve, and maintain the economic growth of the City downtown business district.” (City of Holland Ordinance Sec.2-99.3.) The mission of the PSD, as adopted by our Board of Directors, is to increase the awareness and overall appeal of Downtown Holland on a local and national scale to benefit our members through the following strategies: marketing to increase awareness, fostering vibrancy and excitement, ensuring all feel welcome and engaged, supporting business growth, promoting unity and cooperation, encouraging business excellence and planning for the future of the PSD. The opening of any business in a privately-owned property within our district does not distract us from this mission, including our commitment to ensuring that all members of the community and all visitors to the area feel welcome here.

Downtown Holland

The store’s grand opening drew a group of protestors. Less than a dozen protestors stood on the opposite side of the road for about an hour Thursday afternoon.

“If I’m not out here expressing my voice then I can’t expect anybody else to come out and stand up for me,” said Joe Spaulding, who was in the small group of protestors. 

While the store attracted a lot of negative feedback, it also saw a lot of support. A line of people wrapped around the block ahead of the grand opening.

“Given the makeup of Holland and the Christian roots of Holland and the acceptance of biblical themes of marriage and parenting within the constituency of Holland, we think it’s a good place to try that extension of our bookstore,” said Focus on the Family CEO Jim Daly.

The new Focus on the Family store in Holland. (Sept. 2, 2021)

The Holland location is now the second retail store in the nation. Daly says the only other retail store is in Colorado, where they are based.

Inside, the store offers faith themed apparel and books. They also offer counseling services from their headquarters.

Daly says several of the claims being made online about his organization are false. 

“Unfortunately, I think a lot of people are not informed when they make those claims. I read some of those and the opening paragraph was totally incorrect,” said Daly. “For us, in the issue of conversion therapy, we just believe if a person has unwanted same sex attraction, they should be able to go to a counselor and talk to them about it. That’s our simple statement on that issue.”

Daly says their ministry mostly attracts heterosexual couples. He says the organization’s only goal is to strengthen traditional family bonds.

“There is no nefarious goal here. We just think trying to put a retail position and trying to help families do the best they can do is really the simple goal. There’s nothing bigger than that,” said Daly.

LGBTQ rights advocates say they don’t want people to get discouraged. 

“Things are changing in Holland and people are more accepting. While it’s discouraging and it seems like a step back, it’s also not end game. It doesn’t mean that diversity, equity and inclusion isn’t important in Holland,” said Sorenson.