PORTLAND – The Ave Maria Gift Shop, which for 65 years has provided religious items for churches and individuals, is closing Saturday.

Connie Somma has owned the store for 16 years, since she bought it from the godfather of her husband, James Somma.

She said she is closing it because, at 59, she’s near retirement and her father is aging and his care requires more of her time.

The store’s clientele was about evenly split between individuals and churches, which bought Communion wafers, candles, palm fronds for Palm Sunday and similar items, Somma said.

Individuals would buy Christmas tree angels, Nativity sets, baptism gowns and candles, and gifts such as Bibles and crucifixes for children making their first Communion, she said.

Somma said the lines were sometimes blurred, like the time the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland bought a Fontanini Nativity set.

The store sold the sets, which are handcrafted in Italy. The sets start with pieces that are 3½ inches tall and cost about $20 apiece and up.

The cathedral, Somma said, bought a set with 5-foot pieces. She doesn’t remember the exact price, but “it was thousands of dollars.”

Somma said she doesn’t know of any store in Maine that’s similar to hers. She expects that most of the churches will turn to out-of-state companies for their supplies.

For years, the store was on Congress Street, near Monument Square. In recent years, it has been on Forest Avenue.

Somma said business has been mostly steady, although sales have declined slightly in the past few years.

She said she tried to sell the business as an ongoing operation last summer, but got no offers. When her father began needing more help after he broke a hip, Somma said, she decided to close.

“It’s sad,” she said. “It’s probably the end of an era, but we had to do it.”

 

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: emurphy@pressherald.com