End of an era Catholic store to close doors next month
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.”
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.
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.