By ANNETTE ALLEVA
St. Paul’s Corner is a little-known oasis of Catholic thought and culture on Anchorage’s 5th Avenue.
The bookshop makes a point to be more than an average retail store. Operated by volunteers who do everything from dusting shelves to managing inventory, the store serves primarily to evangelize the diverse customers who walk through the doors — people not always sure of what they are seeking.
Since its founding in 2009, the shop has grown into a unique corner of downtown Anchorage.
After more than a decade without a Catholic bookstore in town, and nearly two decades since the closing of the former St. Paul’s bookstore where Covenant House is now located, parishioner Bernadette Frost was asked by then cathedral pastor Father Francis Hung Le to accept the challenge of establishing a viable business that would serve as a ministry to the parish and wider community.
At the store’s inception there was space, but no money for products or shelves. Frost trusted that if it were God’s will, the resources would come, she recalled.
“I’ll do my best, God will do the rest, and it was one mini-miracle after another,” she said.
Through myriad details of licenses, regulations, inventory and furnishings, the vision of the store remained clear — it was to serve primarily as an outreach.
With a $3,500 gift from a parishioner, the consignment of remaining stock from a defunct bookstore once operated by St. Andrew Church in Eagle River, and shelves from a former Christian bookstore, St. Paul’s Corner was open for business on Sunday mornings in the church basement. The humble beginnings reminded Frost of the words of one of the Daughters of St. Paul, who had once run the bookstore across the street, “All good things start in a stable.”
In early 2010, the fledgling operation moved into its new, brightly lit quarters at Holy Family Cathedral’s Education Center next to the parish and with store frontage on busy 5th Avenue.
Encompassing 1,400 square feet, the store now has an impressive stock of bibles, catechisms, apologetics, books by and about the saints and devotional materials. There also is a children’s section, Spanish language offerings, a western Dominican section, and a variety of CDs and DVDs of both music and devotions. Sacramental and all-occasion gifts are for sale, in addition to statues, crucifixes, jewelry, holy water fonts, cards, incense and candles.
St. Paul’s Corner also features consignment works by local artists, from handmade rosaries and ornaments to inspirational oil paintings.
In keeping with the tradition of several downtown businesses, the store participates in the First Friday art walks. October’s featured author was Kenneth Wichorek, who signed his book about the rosary, and in November, Kess Frey will be signing his new book, “Human Ground, Spiritual Ground, Paradise Lost and Found.”
The store regularly orders items for parish programs and will special order items for customers as well. One of Frost’s long-term goals is to help parishes of the archdiocese collectively buy items in bulk.
“Any way we can help and educate, that’s what we are here for,” said volunteer Fran Lopinsky, who, after retirement joined Frost in an endeavor that has tapped into both of their skills in business management, accounting and human resources.
“I would never work retail, but this is a ministry,” Lopinsky explained, adding that she feels privileged to share stories that customers won’t always tell to someone else. “Everyone who comes in has a different story, sometimes they tell you more than you want to hear.”
Frost recalled a woman who hadn’t received the sacrament of reconciliation in 20 years, and was afraid of doing so. In addition to giving her resources for an examination of conscience, Frost allayed her fears and assured her of the priest’s help in making her confession. When the woman returned to the store after confession “you could see the difference in her whole being,” Frost said.
On another occasion Frost happened to be at the store working on a day it is normally closed. A woman from Talkeetna stopped by the cathedral office inquiring about resources for a seminar she was conducting. Frost opened the store and attended to her needs, stating that the $300 the woman spent was nothing in comparison to the good fortune of being there to help a customer who was a new convert to the Catholic faith.
While experiences such as this inspire Frost, she is quick to add, “I enjoy every bit of my work here, from reconciling bank statements to ordering, to meeting with people.”
Lopinsky added, “No matter how tired I am, the minute I walk in the door, I’m energized. This is where I am supposed to be.”
St. Paul’s Corner is open on Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call the store at 646-3070.