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Hallmark shop fades into history

A Facebook post or text message can't replicate the sifting and studying in selecting the perfect card. There's a pleasure in tangible things that an Evite can't match.

March 02, 2013|Sandy Banks
  • Facebook can't match the tangible pleasure of picking, sending and opening a card.
Facebook can't match the tangible pleasure of picking, sending and… (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)

I noticed when I shopped for Valentine's Day cards that the supply at my local Hallmark store was woefully thin. I chalked that up to my own procrastinating.

But when I went back this week to buy a thank-you card to mail to a friend, I found a note taped to the door that moved me uncomfortably close to tears.

To our Valued Friends, it read. Thank you for 20 years of patronage and friendship! We are now permanently closed for business."

Greeting cards, it seems, are becoming passe in an era of Evites, Facebook birthday posts and thank-yous via text.

Grace's Hallmark in Granada Hills had become the latest victim of a generational and technological shift that has laid waste to bookstores, newspapers, magazines and age-old rituals of human interaction that don't require a computer, a tablet or a cellphone.

::

The card shop's owners, Grace and Dan Lee, were packing to leave Monday when I stopped by. They officially closed the day before, but customers were still trickling in for goodbyes and last-minute bargains on things they hadn't known they wanted.

Stragglers pawed through leftovers: Easter and St. Patrick's Day cards, picture frames, coffee mugs, Christmas decorations and wedding goblets — all cash only, 50% off.

A father and daughter came looking for Precious Moments figurines. He had bought dozens over the years, marking family milestones at this store.

A couple of ladies stopped by with champagne; hugs accompanied the bubbles.

Grace Lee said she's been surprised by the emotional response to their departure. "Some people come in crying," she said.

Grace's Hallmark opened in 1993, survived the damage of the Northridge earthquake and the shifting fortunes of the Granada Village shopping center to become a neighborhood staple. You could buy a card from Grace and Dan, walk a few steps to the post office and drop it in the mailbox.

They are shutting down because their lease expired, and it doesn't make sense to recommit to an industry that's dying.

"Business has been trending down for years," Grace Lee said. "Young people don't come in anymore. They order [gifts] on Amazon and send their cards online.

"It's the older people who like to buy cards. And they like to receive them."

People like me... who also like to browse bookstore racks and page through the newspaper when it lands each morning in the driveway.

The cyber world can't replicate the sifting and studying, the prospect of discovery, the sync between what's on my mind and what I'm holding in my hand.

The satisfaction of the search is part of what's lost as we leave print and concrete behind. There's a visceral pleasure in those tactile, tangible things — picking, sending, opening a card — that a Facebook post can't match.

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I admit I'm still bitter about the closing of our local Borders 18 months ago. It was the last of what used to be a half-dozen bookstores within a few miles of my Northridge home. Now it's a sporting goods store.

The greeting card business is heading down that path. More than a billion fewer Christmas cards were purchased last year than in 1995. The rise of e-cards is part of the reason that we won't be getting mail deliveries on Saturdays anymore. Grace's is just one of more than 700 Hallmark stores across the country that has shut down in the last five years.

This closure stings me not just because it's an inconvenience; I can buy my greeting cards at the market or the mall.

It's a loss because it brought strangers together for a ritual that binds us to the people in our lives.

Whatever the sentiment, whatever my mood, I could search until I found a message that fit — funny, poetic, tender, risque — to celebrate a birthday, soothe a friend's distress, try to mend a lover's feud.

There was something unexpectedly convivial about laughing over Shoebox cards alongside a stranger. Something oddly comforting about knowing that on my birthday someone is bound to give me a Maxine card that grumpily celebrates the vicissitudes of aging.

And something humbling about the realization that an anonymous greeting card scribe could perfectly capture and convey my feelings for my daughter.

Grace's Hallmark was the place where that played out — the shopping equivalent of emotional comfort food.

"They'd let you walk around for an hour, looking for just the right card," said Northridge Realtor Bonnie Pobjoy. She used to bring along her elderly aunt, who considered a visit to Grace's Hallmark akin to a social outing.

It was the kind of place where a customer with failing eyesight could rely on Grace to accompany her from rack to rack, reading cards aloud. Because everyone there seemed to understand that perusing greeting cards was about making connections with people.

sandy.banks@latimes.com

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