Here in central Ohio, we’re blessed to have a Catholic bookstore that I lovingly refer to as “Catholic wonderland,” Generations Religious Gifts. It’s family-owned and operated, and it has almost everything Catholic, from books to sacramentals, decorations to cards, statues to jewelry. What they don’t have in the store, they willingly order.

I’ve come to know the owners, Larry and Phyllis, over the years, thanks to my employment at our parish and my own interest in stocking up my home with things Catholic.

There’s something about being able to go and touch and browse. Even I, the poster child for shopping on Amazon and avoiding retail outlets (I really do hate to shop), see the value and necessity of the service Catholic bookstores provide.

It’s a risky business. Earlier this year, the other Catholic bookstore in our metro area went out of business. It’s frustrating, if you’re a small business owner, to see how the Big Guys seem to come in and slash prices. I think it’s even more disappointing, though, when you start to see parishes ordering supplies from Amazon because of a perceived convenience or lower price.

I’ve started telling people (loudly, at times) that there are many books on Amazon — Welcome Baby Jesus, for example — that cost NO LESS than they would from your Catholic bookstore. There are behind-the-scenes reasons for this, and I don’t even know them all.

I have been, for years, trying to keep as much of my business as local as I can. It’s not easy: the local grocery doesn’t have exactly what I want sometimes, or they’re out, or the other store has a wait that just infuriates me.

Back when I worked at the local John Deere dealership, one of my bosses always said, “People buy from people.” As I’ve gotten older, and especially now that I have kids and a stricter budget, I see just how right he was.

Without customers, our local Catholic bookstores can’t stay in business. They just can’t. And that hurts all of us. The online retailers provide a service, I agree.

What if that Catholic bookstore wasn’t there? I challenge you, as you plan your Christmas shopping, to purchase at least one thing from your local Catholic retailer. Maybe you’ll spend a bit more, and maybe you’ll go out of your way. We could argue economics, but let’s not (neither of us will win).

Your Catholic retailer provides a service as real as the local pharmacy does. Here in central Ohio, Larry and Phyllis do what they do because they love their faith. They’re not out to fleece anyone, and I have seen them go out of their way to provide service that’s above and beyond. At the Catholic Marketing Network this summer, I met quite a few other Catholic store owners who do it, not for the fortune they’re not making, but because of a passion for their faith and their fellow Catholics.

Let’s show them some support. Let’s speak with our dollars this shopping season and tell them “thank you” for the long hours they work, the many products they carry, and the witness they provide in the marketplace.

UPDATE: As it turns out, we DO have a second Catholic retailer here in central Ohio, Catholica. I haven’t had a chance to visit them (they’re in Westerville), but I plan to at some point. If you’ve been there, I’d love to hear what you think!