End of an era Catholic store to close doors next month

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RELIGION - FRANCISCA JONES

Guardian Church Goods store owner Michael Lipsmeyer has been busier than usual over the past cou­ple of weeks de­liv­er­ing can­dles to Catholic churches in the Lit­tle Rock area.

“I hated to leave the churches in the lurch,” said Lipsmeyer, 69, who es­ti­mated the can­dles will be enough to last each par­ish a cou­ple of months.

Af­ter that, the parishes will need to find a new place to buy such mer­chan­dise, be­cause Guardian Church Goods — a re­tailer of a va­ri­ety of Catholic ap­parel and re­li­gious items for the past 67 years — is clos­ing its doors per­ma­nently at the end of Au­gust.

The de­ci­sion comes af­ter Lipsmeyer’s de­ci­sion to re­tire sev­eral years ago and an un­suc­cess­ful three-year search for a buyer.

“If I were 54 or so, I’d have to think about [clos­ing the store],” he said. “It’s be­come more of a hobby.”

OPENED IN 1950

First open­ing in 1950 at 311 W. Sec­ond St. as a com­ple­ment to the Catholic news­pa­per The Guardian — which was later re­named Arkansas Catholic — the store was owned by the Lit­tle Rock dio­cese un­til Lipsmeyer’s par­ents, Madge and Ed­ward Lipsmeyer, bought it in 1966.

The next year, the Lipsmey­ers moved the store to its cur­rent lo­ca­tion at 411 W. Sev­enth St.

Lipsmeyer re­mem­bered his fa­ther’s ded­i­ca­tion to the store and its cus­tomers, build­ing his in­ven­tory based on the items for which he re­ceived re­quests in­stead of or­der­ing from a dis­trib­u­tor.

“He would painstak­ingly or­der [books] from ev­ery [pub­lisher],” said Lipsmeyer, who took over own­er­ship of Guardian Church Goods from his par­ents in 1986.

The store is the only pri­vately owned re­tail busi­ness in Arkansas ded­i­cated to sell­ing Catholic re­li­gious items. Rosaries, cru­ci­fixes and holy wa­ter fonts are among the most sought-af­ter items the store car­ries. The avail­abil­ity of choir robes, col­lars and other clergy wear will be missed, Lipsmeyer said.

A FEW DAYS A WEEK

Bar­bara Hartwick, book­keeper at Guardian Church Goods, has worked at the store since De­cem­ber 1990, when Lipsmeyer asked her to han­dle ac­count­ing state­ments a few days a week.

“I for­got to tell him I didn’t leave jobs quickly,” Hartwick said.

Hartwick and her younger sis­ter, Brenda Lis­ter, had opened an in­come-tax busi­ness that same month. Lis­ter joined the staff a year later to han­dle the sales and front counter. Pur­chases of Bibles, prayer books, vest­ments, pa­tron saint medals and other gifts and mer­chan­dise are to­taled on a circa-1920s cash reg­is­ter.

“We’re one of the only busi­nesses in Lit­tle Rock that can keep go­ing when the power goes out,” Lis­ter said.

The 2017 Of­fi­cial Catholic Di­rec­tory cited by the Lit­tle Rock dio­cese, which serves the en­tire state, lists the num­ber of Catholics in Arkansas as 155,911 in 2016 — up from 122,662 as listed in the 2010 U.S. Re­li­gion Cen­sus. Larger

num­bers, how­ever, haven’t trans­lated into an in­crease in sales.

Book sales at the store have de­clined steadily over the past 10 years, which Lipsmeyer at­tributes to the con­ve­nience of on­line re­tail­ers. The store went on­line with its busi­ness about 15 years ago and drew in sales from around the coun­try and in­ter­na­tion­ally, but Lipsmeyer said it never took off as hoped.

As was the case with Guardian Church Goods when Lipsmeyer’s par­ents owned it, there has been an in­flux of cus­tomers around Easter and Christ­mas. Busi­ness drops off greatly in the sum­mer months, and Lipsmeyer said his mother, who was the store’s pre­vi­ous book­keeper, was for clos­ing the store al­to­gether dur­ing the month of July.

The busi­ness of sell­ing Catholic-theme items has been “a gen­er­a­tional thing,” Lipsmeyer said. Moth­ers and grand­moth­ers would of­ten buy items for bap­tisms, com­mu­nions and con­fir­ma­tions as their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren grew up.

“The younger gen­er­a­tion, not so much,” he said.

“[It] used to [be that] grand­mas would come in and get re­li­gious gifts,” Hartwick said. “There’s so many things in a child’s life that peo­ple would get gifts for. … Now they give cash, they give gift cards. That’s kind of sad, but that’s the times.”

GOOD­BYE, OLD FRIEND

Since Guardian Church Goods an­nounced its clos­ing, many peo­ple have stopped by to ex­press sur­prise about the store’s clos­ing, wish the staff well and say their good­byes.

“Wher­ever I go, I al­ways

try to find a Catholic book­store,” said Robert Kim, a priest in Tulsa who was vis­it­ing a friend in Lit­tle Rock when he stepped into the store for the first time last week.

“There aren’t too many places like this,” said B.J. Bowen, a dea­con at Lit­tle Rock’s Cathe­dral of St. An­drew, who stopped by the store to pick up gifts for two forth­com­ing bap­tisms at the church.

“[Par­ents] al­ways seem to like [the gifts], and it’s a nice ges­ture,” Bowen said. “It lets them know how much you ap­pre­ci­ate them bring­ing their chil­dren to the church.

“I’m go­ing to be sorry to see [the store] go.”

While Lipsmeyer ad­mit­ted he will miss the busi­ness he has owned and op­er­ated for more than 30 years, he and Louene, his wife of 43 years, are ready to travel and spend time with their three chil­dren and eight grand­chil­dren.

Hartwick and Lis­ter plan to con­tinue with their in­come-tax busi­ness, which has been in op­er­a­tion for nearly 27 years. “We al­ways did our best to find that cer­tain spe­cial item peo­ple were look­ing for,” Hartwick said. “I al­ways thought that was a chal­lenge, and I en­joyed try­ing to find [cer­tain items].

“We’re go­ing to miss the peo­ple the most.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/FRANCESCA JONES

Ed­ward Lipsmeyer, owner of Guardian Church Goods in Lit­tle Rock, is clos­ing the store next month af­ter a three-year search for a buyer was un­suc­cess­ful. A re­tailer of a va­ri­ety of Catholic ap­parel and re­li­gious items, the store has been open for the past 67 years.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/FRANCESCA JONES

Pa­tron saint medals and crosses sit in jew­elry boxes with the store’s name printed on their lin­ings, the last of their kind as the store, af­ter 67 years, pre­pares to per­ma­nently close.

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