Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
Lisa Randolph has operated the Trinity Bookstore at Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center, Atlanta, for 28 years. After nearly three decades of existence, the bookstore will go out of business at the end of May.


Chapter closes for legendary Catholic bookstore at Ignatius House

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 19, 2015

ATLANTA—Trinity Bookstore for more than three decades has supplied spiritual books for seekers, first Communion gifts for youngsters and crosses for struggling believers to clutch.

The independent store at Ignatius Retreat House in May will close. Lisa Randolph, the shop’s longtime owner, has struggled as anyone with an Internet connection can receive orders delivered to their front door in days and with the touch of a button a book appears on an e-reader.

“It’s been hard to think about leaving it. It’s been a year of prayer,” she said. “I’ve struggled for a year and a half to keep the store open.”

Its presence at the retreat house provided Catholics the chance to go home with spiritual wisdom. Randolph, 54, a one-time corporate banker, bought the business from her in-laws. It has been her livelihood since 1989.

Catholics have long turned to independent shops. Now big retail chains see value in Christian or other religious items. A men’s steel cross sells for $25 on Rosary beads can be bought on Amazon.

Cherie Peters is selling Mary’s Garden Catholic Bookstore in Norcross after 15 years. She’s moving to Savannah.

“The sales have changed. We sell more gift items, less books. People in Atlanta are tech savvy and they order more books online,” she said.

She’s adopted an online presence and stays in touch with customers on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Peters said running a bookstore isn’t only about the cash register. “The reason I am here is not just to make a living, but to share the Catholic faith and the Gospel.”

A 2013 study done in connection with the CBA, the Association for Christian Retail, pointed out the tough environment. “As the digital revolution continues to gain momentum, it is causing a host of changes in the book industry at a rate difficult to keep up with,” states The Barna Group report.

Six out of 10 CBA member stores in 2012 had a drop in sales. Still CBA reported in 2012 that overall there was an 8.55 percent sales increase for members through the work at a few high performing stores.

Maria Cressler, the retreat house’s executive director, said Trinity Bookstore attracts people to the retreat center. Its closure is sad, but it would have been sadder to see Randolph leave. She’ll stay on as a staff member. Cressler said, “People would open up to her. She’s patient. She has a very listening nature.”

Patricia McMorrow, a parishioner at Christ the King Cathedral, was browsing recently for a wedding gift for her son. “I come here for every sacramental thing for the family,” said McMorrow, who said online shopping doesn’t appeal to her. She likes to touch items before making a purchase.

With six children and 11 grandchildren, she makes trips to the shop regularly. “It’s a very personal experience. I feel like she’s my friend. I will miss it.”

Trinity’s history

Helen Donnelly opened Trinity Bookstore in the 1970s with books and prayer cards and other spiritual items. It was an offshoot of the now closed nonprofit Notre Dame Bookstore, where Catholics turned for devotional items when their numbers were far fewer in metro Atlanta. Notre Dame originally opened at the retreat house and when it moved elsewhere, the Jesuit retreat director asked Donnelly to start Trinity.

It first filled a few small rooms in the retreat center, which now yearly attracts about 3,000 people. Randolph came to help her mother-in-law with bookkeeping. Donnelly was later diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“I’d promised her we would find someone to keep the bookstore open. Not knowing it would be me,” said Randolph.

The shop moved from the retreat house to a mobile home on the grounds for 22 years. An expansion project built new administrative offices at Ignatius House, including a home for the bookstore. The store is independent of the retreat house so it pays a nominal annual rent.

“I’m really grateful I hung in there and moved into the building. It’s like a reward,” she said.

The joy of the unexpected encounter

The Jesuit retreat house overlooking the Chattahoochee River is used mostly by Catholics, but also attracts others of different faiths. Randolph created what she called a “modern spiritual bookstore,” with Jesuit authors lining the bookshelves, work by local artisans hanging on the walls, and books by mystics, both Christian and other faiths, to browse.

Randolph called it a “stab wound” and “crushing” when customers told her they would buy an item online to save money. People don’t realize places like Trinity, where they can wander and be thrilled by discovering an unfamiliar author or inspirational art, won’t exist if they aren’t supported, she said.

“The bookstore is a place that people gather. People come and meet people. There is a God encounter there, not just an exchange of merchandise. It’s been a real joy for me.”

Books and merchandise keep the lights on, but for Randolph the moments spent with customers make it worthwhile. “People share their special intimate stories with you. Whether it is someone going through grieving or a joyous occasion, they start opening up themselves. That’s what I’m going to miss. People invite you into their personal life.”

She wonders if things would be different if she ventured into online shopping. From what she’s heard, it’s unlikely. If a brick and mortar store expands into online shopping, the owner is juggling two stores with different customers, but without the customer interaction she loves, Randolph said.

Starting in June, Randolph will become a retreat house staff member for the first time. She has been at the retreat house for nearly 30 years, predating other staff members by a generation. She’ll be the operations manager, leading the hospitality side of the nonprofit.

She said, “It’s never felt like a business. The experience itself was not just the buying something, but the encounter. I’ve fulfilled what it was supposed to be.”