GREENVILLE—Judy and John Bruce are ending their 13 years as owners and operators of St. Anthony Catholic Store.
The couple said it’s time for someone else to take the business/ministry to what they envision as the next level of service to the growing Upstate community.
“There’s so much we want to do with the store, but we can’t personally do it,” Mrs. Bruce said. “We don’t want it to disappear, and the best way to prevent that is to pass it on.”
Parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua started the shop in the late 1980s, but soon outgrew that location, according to a brief history published on the store’s website.
It moved to a small building in the parking lot of St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral. In the mid-90s, it outgrew that space and moved again. The Bruces purchased the business in 2004, and two years later moved to its current home.
The Eastside store is roughly triple the size of the old location.
Judy, from Atlanta, and John, a Canadian, met in Greenville in the late ’80s. They married shortly before acquiring the shop. Both are members of the Secular Franciscan Order and attend Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville.
In 2008, the Bruces acquired a second store, the Catholic Shoppe in Spartanburg, but that venture ended five years later.
“We had the Catholic Shoppe for about five years and invested a lot of money in it to grow it, but it kept losing money so we ended up closing it,” Mrs. Bruce said.
The two stores marked the first retail business venture for the couple.
“I was a housewife much of my life,” Mrs. Bruce said, while her husband spent most of his working life in the IT department at Michelin.
Moving to the bustling Eastside dramatically raised the store’s level of exposure, Mr. Bruce said. Currently, it sits between a large shopping mall and an interstate highway.
“Our visibility has increased considerably and we’ve been able to dramatically increase our customer base because of that,” he said.
The larger space has also allowed the couple to double inventory.
“We have a lot more non-book items in the store — saints, medals, that type of thing,” Mr. Bruce said.
Going forward, the couple hopes the next owner(s) will build on the store’s website portal “for those people who don’t or can’t get out.” Over the years, the Bruces have loaded a small trailer with goods and visited parishes in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.
“The parishes invite us and we would take a variety of items,” Mr. Bruce said. The effort serves primarily rural parishes that don’t have immediate access to a Catholic store.
Mrs. Bruce said she would also like to see the shop become a meeting place, “not just to come and buy, but to also share their faith.”
“There are so many parishes in the Upstate that are doing really great things, but they don’t talk to each other,” she said. “I would like to see the store become sort of a liaison for all those parishes to come together. Make it more of a community center.”
Mr. Bruce said there’s a need to grow the Greenville business, “not just the Catholic community, but also the community at-large.”
He said people who aren’t Catholic also come by, sometimes asking questions about the Catholic faith.
“We provide assistance to someone who may be Baptist, who has a neighbor who is Catholic. That neighbor has a daughter who is being confirmed and is asking us what gift they should buy for her,” he said. By assisting with that choice, “we help the wider community better understand Catholicism.”
Despite the challenge of starting and running a business, mixed with several personal setbacks along the way, the couple seems to have welcomed the faith journey.
“In the end it all worked out,” Mrs. Bruce said. “It’s just a matter of loving the product, loving the fact that you’re helping people and being able to share the faith.”
Miscellany/Terry Cregar: After about 13 years as owners of St. Anthony Catholic Store, Judy and John Bruce are looking to pass it on.