COLUMBIA—The St. Francis Catholic Shop, a mainstay for people in the Midlands and other parts of the state since the mid-1990s, is closing its doors.
The last day the store will be open is Sept. 19. Owners Deacon Greg Weigold and his wife Maureen announced the closing at the end of August.
Mrs. Weigold said they had originally been thinking of closing the store sometime in the next five years, perhaps selling it to someone else or looking into ways to operate as a nonprofit. Then COVID-19 hit in March and they saw the writing on the wall.
The store itself was only completely closed for one week, but that happened to be Holy Week, which is usually the biggest sales week of the year.
“That was a fair chunk of business that was gone right there and never going to come back, and then we had no real first Communion or confirmation season, which also was the other thing that usually carried us through the slow summer months,” Deacon Weigold said.
“Also business has slowed down because of people buying things off the internet. We just decided it was time,” he said.
The Weigolds are the third owners of the store. The shop was founded by the late Barbara Scott in 1994, and was originally located near Our Lady of the Hills Church. Deacon Joseph Biviano purchased it from Scott’s family after her death, and the Weigolds took it over in November 2005. The shop was first located in a larger space toward the back of its current shopping center, but then moved to its present spot closer to the street in 2012.
Since its opening, St. Francis has been a source of Catholic books, Bibles, statues, jewelry, medals, prayer cards and other objects for the faithful in the Midlands and surrounding counties. The store deals with dozens of vendors around the country, and has sold niche items such as specialty coffees roasted by monks.
For a while, the Weigolds also offered Scripture study and discussion sessions at the store.
“I’m definitely going to miss it because it’s been a wonderful experience,” Deacon Weigold said. “Working at a shop like this is not like a normal retail experience. We’ve served not only Catholics but people of all denominations and faiths who have come in because they were interested in learning about the Church.”
“It’s been an evangelizing mission more than anything,” he continued. “People came in here searching for Jesus.”
The store’s closing also ends the popular traveling “pop-up” shops that the Weigolds set up in parishes and at conferences and meetings around the state. On weekends, they would load up a trailer painted with the slogan “The Roamin’ Catholic” and set off to all corners of the diocese, where they met countless interesting people and made many friends, Deacon Weigold said.
When the St. Francis shop closes, it will leave all of inland South Carolina without a free-standing Catholic store. The only one in the state will be Pauline Books and Media on King Street in Charleston, run by the Daughters of St. Paul. Other smaller shops run by churches remain along the Grand Strand and at St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken.
“Whenever I needed something religious, that was where I shopped because it was the only place around here for Catholics to find it,” said Joanne Metrick, a member of the Basilica of St. Peter in Columbia. “I’m going to miss this place a lot.”
Metrick was at the St. Francis shop on a recent afternoon to purchase a book, and was wearing a Miraculous Medal that she also had purchased there.
Mrs. Weigold said she is looking forward to spending more time with her two grandchildren, but she is going to miss the store because it gave her a chance to share the faith with so many people.
The Weigolds and their staff of volunteers answered everyone’s questions as best as they could and guided those seeking to become Catholic to RCIA programs at area parishes.
“We helped Catholics and we also helped non-Catholics who were searching for some sort of sacramental element in their lives,” Mrs. Weigold said. “I had customers who came in just because they wanted to talk to someone about God. That’s what I’m going to miss.”