Epiphany in downtown Athens might look and feel like just another funky local retailer with its mix of women’s apparel, accessories, home goods and gifts. But there’s something more than a little special about its space at 294 W. Washington St.
Walk toward the back of the store, and there’s a prayer wall, inviting people to write prayers or prayer requests on merchandise tags and hang them up on pegs. There’s also an opportunity to seek prayers for military personnel serving the country.
Scattered around the store are subtle hints of the Christian faith that prompted Dara Buczynsky and her husband, Paul, to use retailing to work for good in the world. One of the hints as to the broader mission of Epiphany is written on a chalkboard in a corner of the store. It’s a verse from the Bible – I John 3:17-18 – that asks how God’s love can abide in anyone who has possessions but closes their heart to anyone else in need.
What’s special about Epiphany is that all of the money the store makes – after paying its lease, light bill and employees – goes directly to local organizations working to improve the community.
Since 2014, when the store opened as Philanthropy – a national chain with the giving philosophy that continues to mark Epiphany – the store has given $130,000 to what it calls its partner ministries. Its money has gone to Mercy Health Center, Heart for Orphans, Downtown Academy, Extra Special People and other groups.
Though Epiphany operates under a Christian aesthetic, its donations aren’t necessarily earmarked for Christian charities. The Buczynskys will donate to groups that fulfill a biblical mandate and “reaches out to the least of these” in addressing human needs, Dara Buczynsky said, whether they are explicitly Christian or not. The Buczynskys review where they are sending their donations on an annual basis, and will make adjustments as warranted.
“We want as much of our profit as possible to go out the door,” said Paul Buczynsky.
A lot of money does go out the door, because the family has decided to live on Paul Buczynsky’s salary as a physician, dedicating Epiphany’s profits to charitable causes. They are committed to giving even more to the community in the years ahead.
One step toward that goal came late last year, when the Buczynskys decided to leave the Philanthropy franchise and reopen as Epiphany. The store had been operating under that name since September, and it held a formal grand reopening Feb. 9.
Moving from under the franchise umbrella has opened a number of opportunities for Epiphany, including the ability to work with local vendors and artists such as Watkinsville’s Chat Pretty Signs and area potters, Dara Buczynsky said.
“We’ve been curating different artists,” she said. “Very often, they are artisans who are like-minded with us.”
And, Paul Buczynsky added, working with local artists means that Epiphany will “tend to have things that are unique.”
The store’s decidedly Christian bent has been off-putting to some potential customers, but the Buczynskys cast a wide net with their faith.
“We’ve had some people come in, turn around and leave,” Dara Buczynsky said. But, she added, “we’ve helped transgendered people find a great dress.”
She said the somewhat subtle, yet unmistakably clear Christian focus of the business has helped customers feel free to talk about personal issues as they shop, giving Epiphany employees a chance to lend a listening ear.
In fact, Paul Buczynsky said, the store’s approach to its customers is focused not on seeing them as potential sales, but on asking, “How do I care for that person?”
Still, the Buczynskys are clear about the fact that Epiphany is a business, and they bring a businesslike approach to their operations.
“I’d like for this to be a destination store,” Dara Buczynsky said.
The Buczynskys are already seeing that dynamic develop. When they initially opened, they were concerned about how “football Saturdays” when the University of Georgia has a home game might adversely affect their business as people’s attention was focused elsewhere. But what has happened is that many people who discovered the store on their way to Sanford Stadium are coming into town early on football weekends specifically to spend some unhurried time in Epiphany, Dara Buczynsky said.
Looking ahead for the next five years, Dara said she wants Epiphany to become an even larger source of funding for local charitable work.
“I’d like to be able to give as big as we want to,” she said.
Epiphany is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays. The store is closed on Sundays.
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