By Rod Lee
In a candid moment Patrick Moran would probably admit that he had no idea when he opened his gift shop on Church St. in downtown Whitinsville two and a half decades ago that the popular stop for candles, flags, folk art, prints, signs and a host of other nifty merchandise for the home and office would be celebrating a twenty-fifth Christmas season, in 2017.
During a conversation the morning of November 28th, Mr. Moran, who grew up on Long Island, who is now fifty-eight years old and white-haired but also as cheery and engaging as ever, reflected with a visitor on the many neighboring businesses that have come and gone since the aptly-named The Welcoming Lantern began operations.
Such notables as Aubuchon Hardware, the offices of the Blackstone Valley Tribune, a satellite office of the Telegram & Gazette, Baker’s Department Store, Rogers Bakery and Flagg Pharmacy are gone. So too is the Trading Post, where Mr. Moran bought his copy of the New York Post on his way to work. Also absent from a street that has had its share of ups and downs are Irene’s and Louis (fashion stores), Sports Minded (sporting goods), Rusko’s (picture framing), Sampson’s (wallpaper), NCTV-11 (community cable), the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce, Talk of the Town (a salon), Garabedian’s (Boy Scout gear), Ace Glass and Friendly’s (the restaurant).
Some have disappeared from the scene entirely. Some have relocated. Some have been repositioned as other enterprises.
Mr. Moran’s staying power (he began at 163 Church St. and soon afterwards expanded into space at 165, effectively making the premises two stores in one) can be attributed not just to “the best gifts under the tree” that can be found at The Welcoming Lantern. His personality is just as much an asset. So too is a solid relationship with Grace Hatfield, his landlord. “We get along!” he says of Ms. Hatfield. Then there is his penchant for gift wrapping every item, even occasionally over the protests of customers who say he doesn’t need to go to the trouble.
“You have to like people,” Mr. Moran said, of his rapport with his customers, some of whom are still coming in for the first time. “You can’t please everyone but you can make their day a little happier.”
That Mr. Moran is a talker who loves to expound on virtually any subject (politics, the weather, the always-challenging business climate, his store’s survival of the controversial reconfiguration of Church St.) with his clientele explains the sometimes lengthy discussions that ensue between he and them. It is also partly responsible for the story he told about how The Welcoming Lantern came to be.
“In college (he attended Assumption) I did an internship at St. Camillus (which was at that time a hospital),” he said. “I used to walk from Hill St. to Friendly’s for lunch. I would walk by this storefront. Who would have known? Then when I started driving around, looking for a place for a gift shop, I saw a For Rent sign in the rear-view mirror.
“When I first opened I was pretty basic. Everything was American-made and it had to be something I could afford to stock. Anything I could source from the U.S. I did. Still do whenever possible. We (he and his wife, Heather) had a connection with a woman who volunteered in Appalachia. She had a retail store in Connecticut.
“Seven years in, the bad economy hit.”
He worked his way through that storm, and other convulsions; even the arrival of competitors like Ocean State Job Lot at Plummer’s Corner and a new Walmart on the western edge of town.
He and his wife chose the name The Welcoming Lantern for his store, Mr. Moran said, because “it could be easily morphed to fit” whatever direction the business took. The replica lantern he uses as his logo was made by the husband of a woman Heather Moran knew from her days working at the Pakachoag Church in Auburn.
A little after eleven o’clock on Small Business Saturday a week ago, in shirtsleeve temperatures that were conducive to foot traffic, The Welcoming Lantern was jammed with patrons and Mr. Moran and his wife were trying to keep pace with bagging gifts for a line of customers.
Exactly the kind of day he enjoys most.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.