On the first floor of the Catholic Center in downtown Buffalo, the Catholic Union Store offers a wide selection of books, gifts, statues, rosaries, cards, priests' vestments, Bibles and various other Catholic and Christian goods. In February, the store held a grand re-opening celebration with Bishop Richard J. Malone in recognition of newly finished renovations that will allow it to better serve the community.
James Murphy, store manager, and Shelley Pacillo, the Catholic Union Store's purchasing manager, sat down with the Western New York Catholic in May to discuss its mission, history, goals and how the changes made to the interior of the store will allow it to continue serving customers, including clergy, men and women religious and laypeople. The store is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
"The Catholic Union Store was established in 1899, and it was established for the purpose of selling religious goods and articles to the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Buffalo, and we've been doing that ever since," Murphy explained. "We're also associated with a number of Catholic purchasing agencies across the United States, who purchase through us and get a better price through us."
The store's stock also includes medals, papal encyclicals and clergy attire, as well as other typical wares that would be found in a Catholic retail store, with all proceeds going directly back to the diocese. Although Murphy noted the store remained open during the remodeling, with the exception of a couple of days, its façade had not been updated since the store moved to its current location in the late 1980s.
"It was time to refresh the appearance. They completely repainted, they put new carpeting in, we got rid of a lot of the old, worn, used furniture that had been here. Essentially, nothing had changed since that time, so we thought it would be a good idea to change things around, make the store look a bit more inviting, make the store look a bit more up-to-date and welcoming," Murphy commented.
Since the Catholic Union Store's grand re-opening, Murphy has received "very positive feedback" about the store's new appearance, such as comments on an improved environment and shopping experience. In the past, the greeting cards were "hidden behind a cubicle wall." Many customers did not even realize that the cards were there. They are now on display in racks in the front, visible through the store's glass walls.
According to Pacillo, the remodeling also made a more open space by removing unnecessary items it did not want catching eyes in the public space. "There was a lot of clutter in the store," she recalled.
Since the re-opening, the store has also chosen to stock a larger selection of items for clergy customers, both because they make up a large percentage of the customers who shop there, and because priests are frequently in and out of the Catholic Center and must pass the store to attend meetings held at the building. Men and women religious also make up a significant portion of the store's customers and they come to the Catholic Center for the same reason, making the Catholic Union Store a convenient stop for them.
In order to maintain its diversity of items that it has in stock every day, the store purchases from a wide variety of sources. "We have various vendors," Pacillo said, with Murphy adding that the store has hundreds of different suppliers and publishers for which it serves as a dealer for their items.
Since many of the things that the store sells are non-denominational Christian items, the Catholic Union Store also supplies Orthodox and Protestant customers since there are no other brick and mortar stores like it in the immediate area. While there are other Christian stores associated with Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna and elsewhere, those are gift shops that do not sell hosts or vestments. Therefore, these customers come in to buy things their churches need that are universal to any Christian denomination.
In the future, the Catholic Union Store, taking advantage of its strategic position in the headquarters of the Catholic Church in Buffalo, has some goals. "We'd like to make it more inviting for them to come in, and offer more specials," Pacillo said. "We're definitely a service to the diocese."