Gift Shop Helps Aging Nuns in Syracuse

Franciscan gift shop has served the community for two decades — it’s still going at new address on Buckley Road

By Matthew Liptak

Not many businesses have an immediate built-in clientele, but that is what the Around the Corner Gift Shop has at the Franciscan Villa at 6900 Buckley Road in Syracuse.

This residency of up to 96 Franciscan nuns is served by the gift shop and its many volunteers.

The gift shop moved to the villa only in 2014 when it opened for the sisters and for the wider community. The villa was a solution to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities problem of deteriorating convents in the city.

It partnered with Hearth Management to provide residencies for aging and retiring sisters in a modern complex.

“This year [we’re] 22 years old,” said Sister Helen Hofman, who directs the shop. “I’ve been involved with it for about 18 years. It’s grown tremendously over the years. It was a little shop that had cards and small gifts and religious articles on Court Street that mainly took care of our senior sisters and the cooking staff and the nursing staff. Then when we came here we were able to expand the gift shop a lot more. We put notions [toiletries] in for the sisters. We have people who come in from all over Liverpool and Syracuse that give donations and contributions. Our sales have increased 100 percent since moving here from Court Street.”

The shop offers many spiritually oriented gifts — rosaries, pet medals, saint statues, cross pendant necklaces — and some that are more generic. It pulls in many of the worshipers who attend the daily mass at the villa’s chapel. Hofman declined to say what the shop’s sales were, but did say revenue from Around the Corner went back into covering the overhead for the whole villa.

“Anything that comes in is strictly for the benefit of the sisters,” she said. “It helps pay bills. It helps pay our medical bills. It helps pay anything and everything. You have lights and electricity, rent. It’s not a success because of the monetary value, it’s a success because of what it does for the sisters — giving them the ability to come in here and feel free when they can’t go out because of their infirmities.”

The gift shop was originally the idea of Sister Maria Goretti Smith, who had the dream of establishing a convenient place to shop for senior sisters and others. Hofman explained that many times senior sisters were reluctant to ask others to go out to pick up items for them since they would feel like they were being a burden. With the gift shop located right in the villa, the sisters could come themselves to shop.

Volunteers make the shop possible. They allow the sisters to keep the shop open by tending to it Monday through Saturday. There are 15 volunteers in all.

“Since I retired I want to give back, so I volunteer here,” said Pat Mathews of North Syracuse. “I also volunteer at hospice. What I like about it is meeting new people and finding out interests people have. I found out a couple had interests in crocheting so I joined one of their crochet groups at the library. You come in saying I want to be here. When you leave, you leave happy.”

The sisters have been an integral part of the community for centuries.

Saint Marianne Cope was a member of the order. She started St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse before tending to those stricken with leprosy in Hawaii.

The focus remains on their vocation more than the bottom line.

“It’s been a life-giving ministry for me besides the other things I can do for the community,” Hofman said. “I enjoy coming in here. My personal motivation is for the love of the sisters.”

Hofman said the field of selling religious articles is not waning, although many in the modern age may have moved away from organized religion.

“We do have the Catholic store which is called Hearts which is in the Solvay area,” she said. “There is a Christian gift shop which is Sacred Melody in Eastwood. You can’t have a lot of religious stuff because there’d be too much competition where you’re outdoing each other.”

The gift shop like the community of sisters itself hopes to have a presence in Syracuse for years to come. Hofman can see the need for it, whether it’s for the sisters or for the wider community. It fills a niche and fulfills a mission started two decades ago, but one that is just as vital today.

“We’re not going to grow past this little spot here, but definitely I can still see the necessity of a gift shop,” Hofman said. “We’re always going to have our sisters here. We’re always going to have our senior sisters so they will always need to shop. As long as we continue to have our daily masses here people from around the area will still be coming in.”