In a world of changing digital technology, online shopping, and
e-books, independent Catholic gift and book stores still manage to be a crucial resource
for people of all ages and backgrounds.
The stores are cultural destinations in some ways, described as a niche market with a niche product. The Internet plays a part, with many customers researching items online before coming in to make a purchase.
“There is no doubt that we are a niche,” said Andreas Pfenniger, owner of Holy Family Gift and Book Store in Langley. “We are the Catholic Costco,” he says with a smile.
Holy Family is the only Catholic bookstore in the Fraser Valley, located across the street from St. Joseph’s Church in Langley. It was founded in 2009 by Andreas (a Langley native with a background in retail) and his wife, Sharon.
The store serves a sizable Catholic population in the Fraser Valley, including parish study groups, clergy, lay people, and students from everywhere, including Catholic Pacific College in Langley and Christ the King Seminary in Mission. Local pastors encourage their faithful to stop for a look and to buy local.
Regular visitors are of all ages, looking for giftware, books, Bibles, calendars, greeting cards, medals, rosaries, candles, daily planners, CDs, DVDs, children’s items, crucifixes, icons, etc. Due to the specialized nature of titles and other items sold, Christians of all denominations frequent the store.
The store takes a special interest in what people are asking for. While some visitors arrive with specific gift or personal needs, others visit just to browse or see what’s available. Special keepsake items for baptism and first Communion are popular.
When Andreas opened his bookstore 10 years ago, he could not have imagined the positive response from the local community.
His inspiration and motivation were simple. “I was taking a course at our local parish on the Bible. I met other Catholics who wanted to know more about their faith and were excited to know more. I was both surprised and inspired by this.”
He was working at a Christian bookstore and “Catholics were coming in who could not find what they were looking for. I spent time thinking about this and asked my wife what she thought of opening a Catholic bookstore.” She responded, “I always knew you would!”
“We feel strongly about our faith,” says Sharon. “We have such a passion for it and want to share it with others. In this business, we get to walk with Jesus every day.”
Andreas adds, “The drive and continued inspiration for the store is the need to make good, solid, wholesome Catholic items available to people to educate and inspire them and to assist them in sharing their own faith.”
Holy Family also carries an extensive line of homeschooling curricula, bringing together many rare educational resources under one roof.
Popular titles at the store include books on the lives of the saints, apologetics, Scripture studies, the Mass and devotional books such as The Imitation of Christ. Popular authors, among others, are Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins, Joseph Ratzinger, and Fulton Sheen.
Bestsellers include Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth, Unplanned by Abby Johnson, and The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn.
According to Andreas, the store is strict when it comes to the types of books and DVDs it carries. “We don’t support anything not in line with Catholic/Christian teaching,” he says. “Our customers are satisfied to find a store in the area that carries the best of Catholic items.”
While young shoppers may feel torn between purchasing e-books or hard copies, there is nothing like entering a shop to see, feel, and touch a book or product before buying it.
Regular customer Keith Hudson of Surrey says: “I buy all the presents for my grandkids here. My joy as a grandparent is to place wholesome items in the home to help shape their Catholic identity.”
Store employees are happy to offer recommendations to customers and sometimes make suggestions about new material they’d like the store to carry. Richard Gumpal, Holy Family’s newest employee, says the number of loyal customers who continue to support the store is “very gratifying.”
J.P. Sonnen is a tour operator and history docent with Vancouver-based Orbis Catholicus Travel.