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Paschal Lamb gets new shepherds

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When Julia Hecton saw the classified ad labeled “Business Opportunity” in the back of the Catholic Herald, she was working as a bookkeeper and had no experience running a small business. But the ad said the Paschal Lamb, the Catholic bookstore and gift shop that had been a beloved fixture in Fairfax since 1987, was seeking “a new shepherd.”

“I loved my faith journey and living my faith, and I just didn’t want to see the store go away,” said Hecton, a parishioner of St. Ambrose Church in Annandale. Her husband had left a career as a defense contractor to open a restaurant, “and that inspired me — he didn’t have small business experience either,” she said. He told her “if it’s meant to be and you work hard at it, it will work out.”

That was a year ago. After much prayer and discernment, Hecton and three business partners took the leap and bought the Paschal Lamb. Laura Mead and Sharon Driscoll are fellow parishioners at St. Ambrose; Barbara Schwartz has worked part time at the store for years and attends St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax. 

“God found them for us,” said Cecilia Balog, who opened the store 33 years ago with partner Donna Biegler; Roslyn Barry signed on soon after. All three were parishioners of St. John Neumann Church in Reston and their husbands had retired from the military. 

Balog sees the store as a ministry and isn’t worried that the new owners have no retail experience. “They have great ideas and lots of energy,” she said. She plans to stay involved as long as necessary to provide training. Balog was a retail novice when she thought of opening the store while working as a parish secretary. “People would call all the time to ask where to get gifts for first Communions, confirmations” and other occasions, she said. 

The store started in a 500-square-foot space and grew little by little, expanding three times over the years to the current 2,300 square feet, all in the same shopping center. Biegler was the gift buyer, Balog handled books and music, and Barry was the card buyer. “We always collaborated and respected each other’s expertise; we said if we break even we will be happy. Thank God we did,” Balog said. 

The new owners sat around a table in the children’s section at the back of the store one recent Friday morning to discuss new ideas, which include expanding the website, adding more author events and other innovations. Each brings her own passions and areas of expertise.

Hecton, who is of Nicaraguan descent, is bilingual and looks forward to expanding the store’s outreach to the area’s growing Hispanic population. Mead has a background in religious education and has connections to area churches. Schwartz, a drama teacher who embraces technology, has set up a new Shopify point-of-sale system to replace the old cash register.  

Driscoll's career background is in counseling; at first she didn't think she would have time to devote to owning a business — she and her husband have two young boys and she's an active volunteer at St. Ambrose School and parish. But Hecton kept bringing it up and when Driscoll prayed about it, she realized it would be a way to help people in their faith journeys, and God was telling her “you can do this — don’t shy away from it.”

“Who would do this during a pandemic?” she said. “But how do you say no to God?”  

Hecton said she has been amazed at the distance people travel to visit the shop, and continues to be impressed by customers’ loyalty. “Everyone says how much they love the store and thanks us for keeping it open,” she said.

Customer Patricia Molseed of Springfield came to shop for Easter items while she was in the neighborhood. The rise of online shopping has challenged many local stores, but Molseed said she likes to browse in person. “You don’t always know what you want when you come in. You have to know what you’re looking for when you’re shopping online.”

The new owners believe the appeal goes even deeper.

“When people come here, they share something about their journey, and there is a human connection,” Hecton said. “You’re not going to get that at Amazon.” 

Find out more 

The Paschal Lamb is located at 11214 Lee Highway, Fairfax, Va. Call 703/273-5956 or go to paschallamb.com.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021