Religious Sales Beat Recession
Stores and Parents Optimistic for First Communion Season
BY AMY SMITH
REGISTER COPY EDITOR
March 29-April 4, 2009 Issue | Posted 3/20/09 at 10:04 AM
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — White dresses. Patron saints’ names. First Communion and confirmation season is almost here — and the gift buying has begun.
But how will Catholic products be affected by the economic crisis?
“2009 will be a very critical year for a lot of stores,” predicted Catholic Marketing Network president Alan Napleton.
But the bottom line is that these sacraments will be celebrated, regardless of the state of the economy. Napleton said, “These are very important times for celebration, and people are looking for keepsakes and such, so I don’t think there will be much of a cutback.”
And the stores are optimistic. “People are already shopping,” said Susie Oppelt of Aquinas and More Catholic Gifts in Colorado Springs, Colo. “Now is a pretty good time to start; the season is coming up quickly. We have seen some changes. But people still need to get gifts.”
“Orders are still coming in, but they may not be as large,” noted Kathy Furlong of Leaflet Missal Company in St. Paul, Minn.
The Gottfried family of Marietta, Ohio, is getting ready for its celebration. For them, it isn’t that money doesn’t matter — but that some things matter more.
James and Diane Gottfried’s 8-year-old daughter, Maggie, will be making her first Communion in May.
They plan on giving her a rosary bracelet where charms can be added for religious and other special milestones in her life. “It’s a keepsake sort of item she can add to,” Diane Gottfried said.
The most popular gifts seem to be the traditional ones, and these are usually inexpensive.
“We have the standard ones people are always looking for,” Aquinas and More’s Oppelt noted. “First Communion crosses and rosaries are always pretty popular, and for confirmation, books on apologetics and understanding the faith.”
But pricier items still find plenty of customers during the sacramental season. Personalized gifts are also favorites for both sacraments at Aquinas and More.
“We offer engraving. Good ideas for confirmation gifts are patron saint medals with the person’s name on the back,” Oppelt said.
The same thing is being seen at Leaflet Missal. “Anything that is personalized is a huge seller for us,” Furlong said. “Personalizing goes up drastically from March to May. Personalized Communion boxes are popular. They are little wooden boxes with room for the child’s name and a saying about first Communion. Personalized Communion plaques have been favorites for many, many years.”
But gifts like rosaries, photo frames and Communion gift sets are always top sellers for Leaflet.
A new item this year is a first Communion ring.
“We’re not sure which way it will go” in terms of popularity, Furlong said.
The Catholic Marketing Network, based in Dallas, confirms the tradition factor, especially in today’s economy.
“The traditional gifts would be the trend,” Napleton said. “And keepsake items. We’re seeing a growing selection in that area. Also, personalized keepsakes are very popular.”
In terms of confirmation gifts, he said that youth-focused Bibles tend to be big sellers.
Alternatives to Spending
For those who are watching their wallets, store-bought gifts aren’t the only options. Gottfried said a first Communion ring has been passed down to the oldest child of each generation of her family.
“My grandfather made his first Communion in 1926. He had a simple gold ring that he passed on to my mother in 1956, then to me in 1976,” she recalled. “Our oldest made his first Communion in 2006, but since he’s a boy, we didn’t think he’d ever wear it, so we’re going to give it to our daughter this year.”
Other mementos are also passed on, she said. “My husband and I have items from our childhood — a Bible, a statue of Mary from my first Communion — that we thought we’d pass along as each of our children makes their Communion.”
Think of non-traditional gifts, too, Gottfried said.
“For our son, in the spirit of growing in Christ and something a little more fun,” she said, “we got him C.S. Lewis books. The [Narnia] movie had come out, and it was a good opportunity to use it as a gift-giving opportunity. He really liked it. I don’t want them to think that their spiritual life is separate from their everyday life. They have to be comfortable with the mixing of the two.”
When times get tough, the tough find sales.
Gottfried makes use of online shopping, as well as catalogs, in addition to the store that recently started at her parish, St. Mary Catholic Church in Marietta, Ohio. She has also found rosary bracelets are available at her local jewelry stores. “You just have to do the legwork,” she noted.
For those needing to find a local Catholic store, there are several online resources. The websites of Catholic Marketing Network, As--cension Press and Ignatius Press all offer store locator functions. The latest is CatholicStoreFinder.com, a service of Aquinas and More that launched in February and lists more than 700 gift and bookstores nationwide. The beginning of March saw another online feature from Aquinas and More: FirstCommunionStories.com, which features self-posted memories.
Regardless of which gifts are selected, the focus should be on what truly matters.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the gift-giving portion,” Gottfried said, “but, really the focus should be on the celebration of the sacrament. That’s the real present.”
Amy Smith is the
Register’s copy editor.
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