Hard Goodbyes at 'For Heaven's Sake'
Nancy and Stephen Marino invested six years of their lives and all of her retirement savings into the faith-based shop. Now that it's closing, they don't know what's next.
When Nancy Marino opened For Heaven’s Sake in downtown Collingswood back in April 2007, she thought she’d picked a winner.
Now, as she prepares to shut the doors of her shop nearly six years later—two of which she spent battling cancer—Marino’s not even sure she’ll be able to keep her home in the borough if she can’t find another gig.
“Had I been healthy enough, I may have closed earlier,” she said. “During the holidays, I’m working totally on adrenaline.”
The shop took every penny of her retirement money to open, stock and maintain. She never took a salary, never turned a profit.
And as Marino watches the last of her inventory head out the door at a hefty 75 percent markdown, it’s tough to stomach.
“You’re not looking for big bucks,” she said. “You’re trying to be a presence in the community, to make it a more peaceful place.”
‘I tried to be a community service’
Independent religious retail specialty shops in the area are in short supply—Marino can tick off on her fingers the names of those that have since closed, from Audubon to Mantua—and with more than a dozen houses of worship in Collingswood, she said, “I felt the town really needed something like this.
“I worked not only to provide things for Christians,” Marino said. “I tried to be a community service.”
Most other inspirational gift stores in the state are all affiliated with a group called CLC Ministries, Inc., she said, and only carry texts or items that align with its views.
“They don’t carry anything Catholic,” Marino said. “You couldn’t get a statue, a medal.”
For that reason, Marino hoped For Heaven's Sake would offer an independent alternative. She doesn't care whether her patrons are of a particular denomination, or even if they were particularly religious.
“I’d rather see people have faith than none at all,” she said, adding that the spiritual landscape of Collingswood has “a lot of nonbelievers and agnostics.”
When For Heaven’s Sake closes, the borough also will lose its only greeting card store. Marino said some customers used to tell her she was their only alternative to taking the PATCO Hi-Speedline to the Echelon Mall for such errands.
Even as she moved those paper goods to the front of the store—along with candles, statuary and other gifts—in the hope of attracting secular shoppers, she could hear potential patrons writing her off.
“No matter what it was,” Marino said. “I could hear them through the glass: ‘Don’t go in there, that’s a God store.’”
‘We’ve helped a lot of people on their faith journey’
Nancy’s husband (and For Heaven's Sake co-owner) Stephen Marino, who's put in 36 years at the Maple Shade Post Office, said that it was “heartbreaking to close” and that “you don’t want to let people down.”
He said that even having to close the store, he loves "what has become of Collingswood," and that its downtown is "a wonderful area."
"Unfortunately, with the rents in this day and age, it's tough to make it downtown," Stephen Marino said.
Nonetheless, the experience of operating the business has left him feeling like the couple has done some good to aid others on their personal spiritual journeys.
“I think we’ve certainly helped a lot of people in their faith journey,” Stephen Marino said.
“When I look back at this from a faith perspective, a lot of people have been helped by coming into the store.”