Catholic bookstore sold at sheriff's sale

| Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Kirner's Catholic Book Store -- one of Pittsburgh's best-known religious book and gift stores for 130 years -- is closing operations.

The store, including the building at 219 Fourth Ave., Downtown, was sold at Allegheny County sheriff's sale on Tuesday for $1,607.52 to Apex Mortgage Corp. of Fort Washington, a suburb of Philadelphia.

There were no other bids for the property. Apex claimed the store was $434,316 behind in its mortgage payments.

"I am sorry that we had to foreclose on the property. We were hoping some local firm would buy the building and store before the sale," said Ted Kapnek, Apex president. "Our plan is to liquidate any material left in the building, then turn it over to a Pittsburgh-area commercial real estate firm to sell the property."

David Heagy, one of the store's owners, was busy yesterday clearing out merchandise, which he said basically ended the store's operation.

"Blame it on the Internet, the economy, or the changing demographics, but we were not able to keep the store profitable," Heagy said.

Kirner's ownership included his wife, Mary, and James and John Ferris. They are the fourth generation of Maurice Kirner, the store's founder.

Heagy said there are no plans to open Kirner's at another location.

The impact of the Internet on the purchase of Catholic items, plus the fact that fewer people come Downtown to shop than they did when stores such as Gimbels, Kaufmann's and Hornes flourished, resulted in fewer sales for Kirner's, said the Rev. Ron Lengwin, Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese spokesman.

"It's a sad day for the people who work Downtown, who now won't be able to stop in and purchase the religious items they want and need," he said.

"I'm sorry to see the store that was so much part of Pittsburgh's religious history close. It was a place where one could purchase items for a First Communion, for a wedding, for priests and for other religious events," he said.

Maurice Kirner established the store in 1881 at the prompting of his brother, the Rev. Thomas Kirner, primarily to provide the Catholic school market with books and teaching supplies, according to the store's website.

Son Frank Kirner entered the business as a printer, establishing his own print shop in a garage on the Kirner farm.

In the first 45 years, the store changed locations 11 times, because of changes in the development of Pittsburgh. In 1926, the store relocated to 309 Market St., Downtown, where it remained until 1981.

That year, when PPG Industries Inc. broke ground in Market Square for its headquarters complex, Kirner's and several other companies whose properties were needed built facilities on Fourth Avenue, where they are currently located.

During this period, the store was under the leadership of the third generation of the Kirner family, Clara Mae Kirner, Louise Kirner and Suzanne Ferris, daughter of Frank Kirner. They assumed ownership in 1990.

"We are sadden by the closing of Kirner's, which will leave us and A.T. Merhaut as the only stores that will be church providers, offering such items as vestments, altar hardware, candles and similar religious items," said Linda Gentili, co-owner of JMJ Catholic Book Store, 5318 Park Ave., Bethel Park.

John Merhaut, owner of A.T. Merhaut with stores in McCandless and Hampton, said, "I feel bad for the owners, who are friends and competitors." He said his supplies are adequate, and he doesn't plan to purchase any of the items from Kirner's.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.


Show commenting policy