Cotter Church Supply doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic. In fact, many people strolling down Grand Avenue in South San Francisco find themselves confused by the store.

“Many people don’t know what the rules are,” salesman Nick Kaufer said. “A lot of people come in and they don’t think they can buy stuff from us, they think you have to be a part of a church.”

The store, however, is open to everyone.

Here, one can find a wide array of items, including devotional gifts, books and Bibles, crucifixes and art pieces. The only restriction is you need to be 21 to buy its best-selling item, Altar wine.

Kaufer is no stranger to the church supply business, not only has he worked with Cotter’s since it opened its South San Francisco location in 2013, but he’s a veteran of the industry previously working at his dad’s now-closed business, Kaufer’s Religious Supplies.

As other church supply companies have closed over the years, Cotter’s has found itself able to maintain its business. Owner Mike Cotter attributes this to the fact that they have five stores, which allows for a large inventory and ability to ship items between stores and cater to the most customers possible.

Cotter’s, however, has been no stranger to the impact of the changing times. Cotter said, “there’s lots of turmoil in the Catholic church,” adding how “all denominations are struggling with their attendance.”

Cotter added how Cotter’s is a high touch business, meaning customers often call the store to get suggestions about products before buying. The demand for an online store has increased, however, and Cotter’s is currently redoing its website to make ordering online easier.

The convenience of ordering from Cotter’s has kept Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Pacifica a customer for over 20 years, said Lay Pastoral Associate Suzanne Chinn. The ease of service, as well as the proximity of the retail store provide security for the church should an emergency arise.

“It’s very relaxed and we can rely on them to have what we need,” Chin said. “Their service is number one.“

Starting as only a small rented room in Long Beach, Cotter’s has remained a family-run business since it opened in 1948. The idea to open a church supply business was sparked by founder Ted Cotter’s brother, who was a priest and noticed a need in the market for church supplies.

Cotter’s is now run by Ted Cotter’s three sons, Tim, Mike, and Patrick.

Kaufer said he enjoys working in a family business.

“I can call the Cotter brothers at any time ... . I like working at a place that feels like family,” he said.

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