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Rochester congregation is new home for UU boutique

New York church will expand UniUniques with traditional and edgy items.
By Donald E. Skinner

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For 25 years UniUniques has had a place in the hearts of Unitarian Universalists as an innovative place to buy UU-themed jewelry, clothing, music, bumper stickers, and other items. Through its paper catalog and website it has helped UU artisans and UUs seeking to buy specialized products find each other, and offered hard-to-find items, such as tie-dyed T-shirts with a chalice logo, notecards that say “Unitarian Universalists rock,” and more than 40 different chalice pendants.

The originator of UniUniques, Nancy Warren-Oliver, is retiring, but that doesn’t mean the service is going away. Instead Warren-Oliver is allowing it to become an enterprise of First Unitarian Church in Rochester, N.Y., where she is a member.

The Rev. Kaaren Anderson, senior co-minister of First Unitarian, said Warren-Oliver let the congregation know several years ago that she would like to retire from UniUniques. “We talked about it with her, and then we also talked about the kinds of tools and resources we wanted for our own congregation and that no one was out there creating. We saw a need for an additional congregational line of resources to add to the mix, and that’s why we’re doing this,” Anderson said.

First Unitarian will continue UniUniques under the name UniUni. It will be operated independently from First Unitarian, although any eventual profits will be used to support the congregation’s operating budget, including social justice programming.

Anderson said the website for the company, www.shopuniuni.com, will be available by October 15. The UniUniques website will remain active until then, Anderson said. Discussions are under way about what items UniUni will sell, including what might be most useful to congregations. Anderson said some of First Unitarian’s worship services will likely be made available in a “service-in-a-box,” format, including four Christmas pageants.

She anticipates selling a line of children’s stories as well. A poster depicting UU versions of heaven and hell and a UU Advent calendar are also in the works. Items on parenting are also planned. Many current UniUniques items will continue to be carried.

Anderson said UniUni will also carry a line of “hip, edgier items” for UUs in general. “We’d like to attract a young demographic in addition to those of us who might be considered more traditional (older) customers,” she said.

What would those “hip, edgier items” be? Think UU fortune cookies and playing cards. Trivia cards. Maybe an Emerson bobblehead figure or switch plates featuring famous UUs. Condoms, too. “We make them available free in the bathrooms at church. Why not sell them as well?” said Anderson. A line of UU action figures. Wrapping paper. Beach towels. Gender-neutral dolls. “We have a lot of fun at our planning meetings,” Anderson said.

She anticipates that many of the items that UniUni will sell will be evangelism tools or at least conversation starters. “Some of this might seem kitschy, but I see it as giving people the chance to use their values in a fun, witty way. I have a plastic pen in the shape of Jesus and people always ask me about it. What if it was Susan B. Anthony instead? Or what if I had a UU case for my iPhone?”

She added, “If people buy these things, then when a non-UU kid goes to a UU kid’s house, or a UU takes one of our items to work, it might create a conversation. If we don’t do this we let all kinds of opportunities slip through our fingers.”

The new company wants ideas on what to sell. “We’re going to have a whole blog where people can send us ideas,” said Anderson. In the meantime, ideas can be sent to ideas@shopuniuni.com. She said that while the company will be open for business in October 2012, it will take a couple of years to get UniUni fully up and going. A fund drive is under way to collect $15,000 in loans to capitalize the business. Donors get a gift card, redeemable in a year, in the amount of their donation. Outright gifts are also accepted.

Bill Waterhouse, a member of the congregation, is general manager of the new company. “We’re taking what Nancy built and injecting some new ideas. I’m a business guy. I don’t have a creative gene, but our planning meetings just totally energize me,” he said. “This is quite a gift that Nancy has given us. I can’t wait to get this new version up and running.”

UniUni is also planning to exhibit at upcoming UUA General Assemblies, as UniUniques did for many years. Beyond that it will exist online only. It will not have a paper catalog.

Kelly Powell is in charge of graphics and product design. “I like the fact that a lot of the things we want to sell will appeal to people of many faiths,” she said. "It's a chance to spread positive messages and draw attention to social justice causes important to all of us."

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