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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2004

Area religious stores report big interest in 'Passion' items

Jewelry is on display at Reger's on Secor Road in Toledo. Jewelry is on display at Reger's on Secor Road in Toledo.

Consumer interest in merchandise and other items related to The Passion Of The Christ - witnessing cards, a book with photos from the set, pocket tokens, and lapel pins - has surged in the last few days at Reger's Church Supplies & Religious Articles in Toledo after building for a couple of weeks.

And churches of varying sizes are buying witnessing cards and other items tied to Mel Gibson's movie about the last 12 hours of Christ's life, said Scott Woods, store director of operations.

"There's just massive interest," he said. "It's quite a craze right now."

Religious stores throughout the area report increased interest in products licensed by Mr. Gibson's Icon Productions as well as other Lenten-related items.

Some stores, including Reger's, were waiting for their first shipments of licensed crucifixion nail pendants, which have proved to be popular nationwide and which local consumers have inquired about.

The California company that makes the pendants and other licensed jewelry items has shipped about 75,000 of the pewter nails, which are made in two sizes. They are strung on cords and are priced starting at about $13. Bob Siemon Designs' staff is working 10 to 14-hour shifts six days a week to help keep up with the jewelry line's demand, Mr. Siemon told the Associated Press. "This thing has turned into this kind of overnight phenomenon that we can't believe," he said.

Sterling silver nails will become pendants at Bob Siemon Designs in California. Sterling silver nails will become pendants at Bob Siemon Designs in California.

Mr. Woods said some people are buying the items to show their support of the controversial movie. No matter what people think of the movie, it is positively drawing attention to Lent, he said.

At Springs of Life in Findlay, the first shipment of licensed items is expected Monday. Owner Ame Johnson said she ordered nail pendants as well as licensed bracelets, mugs, witnessing tools, and other items.

"From the amount of phone calls I've gotten, this could be [a hit]," she said. "I don't know what to expect."

Yet not every local store has had many sales of Bob Siemon products. Monroe's Alpha Gifts, which doesn't have the nail pendants, is undecided about whether to stock licensed items with Aramaic wording but will keep a catalog on hand, said Sheila Barstad, the store's buyer.

"There's talk of The Passion, but no real buying yet," she said. The store carries a variety of other crosses and books that are popular.

Interest in the movie started last year and heightened a couple of weeks ago, and the coffee-table book The Passion, with photos from the set and Bible verses, is selling well at the Family Christian Stores location in Toledo, said Tina Carr, manager. Devotionals and other items are selling well too, she said.

Family Christian Stores has sold more than 3,000 copies of the book in the last week, said Tara Powers, a spokesman for the 320-store chain with two Toledo area locations.

Churchill's Religious Goods & Gifts in Toledo this week had to reorder The Passion and The Dolorous Passion Of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on which Mr. Gibson based his movie, owner Ken Churchill said.

"Both of those books have sold very, very well," said Mr. Churchill.

Clergymen say 'Passion' illustrates Gibson's vision of his religious life

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