Green Bay's Catholic book, gift shop to close Jan. 15
Failing economy, online competition among reasons for closure
By Sam Lucero
GREEN BAY -- St. Catherine's Book and Gift Shop, a mainstay in the community for more than 60 years, is closing its doors Jan. 15. The decision to close St. Catherine's came during a board of directors meeting Nov. 3.
The closure leaves four employees - one full-time and three part-time - without jobs and hundreds of loyal customers disappointed. Rosemary Reedy, St. Catherine's manager, said the board's decision was based on the declining economy and a drop in book and gift sales.
"The economy is not good and (the board) doesn't see it financially able to continue," she said. "I think it's a loss to the community."
Book sales have been slumping since Sept. 11, 2001, said Reedy. "Moving to the cathedral grounds helped and increased store traffic. But the economy in general is tough. Individual and parish pocketbooks are rather tight."
She explained that as parishes merge or consolidate, there are fewer orders for parish ministry products. "If the number of retreatants is down at Holy Name Retreat House, we feel it in sales." In addition, the cost of health insurance and retirement benefits for former employees added to the expenses, she said.
St. Catherine's opened as a Catholic lending library in 1946 at 110 South Monroe in honor of Catherine Stenger. Following her death, books that had been given to Stenger were organized by her sister and turned into St. Catherine Library and Book Shop, located inside the Stenger home.
The store's patron saint is St. Catherine of Alexandria, the patron of young women and philosophers, said Reedy.
Mary Lou Ziga managed the store from 1950 to 2002. She was a fixture at St. Catherine's and helped turn the store into a popular hangout for avid book readers. Ziga told The Compass that she was devastated to hear about the store's closing.
"I just feel that we need a book shop like that in this city, that has good Catholic material," she said. "St. Catherine's handles books that nobody else usually handles. I think it's going to be kind of tough. I don't think you can find all of those things on the Internet. Catholic publishers are small and they have specialized stuff. Barnes and Noble doesn't even want to handle" specialized Catholic books.
Longtime customers of St. Catherine's fondly remember enjoying afternoon tea at the shop, the smell of baking bread and the conversations that went on for hours.
The afternoon tea sessions were instituted by Ziga in about 1959. "We had afternoon tea every day and we would invite anybody into the shop to come and have tea with us," she said. "It was a wonderful time. I tried to sit down with everybody who came in."
It was customary for bookstore regulars like Norbertine Fr. Ferdinand DuPont and Bishop Robert Morneau to visit. "Fr. DuPont came every Tuesday to check the books we had and have a cup of tea with us," she said. During Advent the shop would invite families in to create Advent wreaths and Bishop Morneau would stop in to bless the wreaths.
Ziga enjoyed traveling to exotic places around the world and while abroad she would purchase gifts to sell at St. Catherine's.
Over time, the lending library gave way to a book store and in 1959 it moved to 342 South Jefferson. It was incorporated as a nonprofit business in 1983. Reedy said that during the 1990s, St. Catherine's took on a larger role in serving the Green Bay diocesan community.
"St. Catherine's has provided book service for the diocesan Commissioned Ministries Program, parish book fairs, Holy Name Retreat House, and many diocesan workshops for religious educators and parish leadership," she said.
The store's relocation in 2006, next to St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, symbolized its important role in the diocesan community. "We have a very warm relationship with parishes in terms of providing them with materials," said Reedy.
St. Catherine's carries more than 12,000 book titles, making it one of the largest religious book stores north of Milwaukee. "We sell new and used books, icons, rosaries, statuary and religious gifts," she said.
Books and gifts are displayed in rooms divided into subjects such as music and teens; spirituality; prayer and grief; and Bible and ministry. One of the newer displays, found near the store's entrance, offers materials on St. Paul in observance of the Jubilee Year of St. Paul.
The most popular local author, whose books have their own display shelf, is Bishop Morneau. The bishop, who is pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez, has made several book-signing appearances at the store and is a member of the bookstore's board of directors.
"St. Catherine Bookstore has been one of the hidden treasures in the Green Bay community," he said. "The store has offered a variety of books and religious articles that have helped people of all ages to grow in their faith. The bookstore also has been noted for the gracious hospitality that the customers received."
Bishop Morneau called the closing of St. Catherine's "a loss to the community."
Reedy said the void left by St. Catherine's will have to be filled by other religious goods stores, including F. Kaster Company and Jandrain Religious Supply in Green Bay and St. Patrick Book Store in Appleton.
James Sickel, president of St. Catherine's board of directors since 1984, has been associated with the store since he began mowing the property's lawn 52 years ago. "I learned a lot, met a lot of people and had a wonderful experience working there," he said. "It has provided a great environment for the community, particularly the Catholic community, with regard to religious reading."
Sickel said book and gift sales declined about 30 percent in the last year. The move to online shopping sites such as Amazon.com, took its toll on St. Catherine's, he added.
"It's sad to see it close, but the way we now get the information we want is so much oriented toward purchasing off the computer," he explained. "It's hard to compete in an environment like that today, when it's easier for someone to access that material right from their home."
One experience that St. Catherine's offered for five decades was an opportunity for customers to sit down and page through books before buying them. Now places like Barnes and Noble are filling this niche, he added. The ability of national retail chains, like Barnes and Noble, to order large volumes of books at discounted prices also put St. Catherine's in an unviable position, added Sickel. "We don't get the discounts that you do when you order large volume," he said.
A sale will begin soon to clear the store of its inventory, said Reedy. She urged customers with gift certificates to stop in and use them.