Special to the Recorder
In 1971, June Czelusniak, employed as a bookkeeper by the Saveway Supermarket, realized that she needed a greeting card for a special occasion. She thought that she should have no problem in finding one as there were three stores in the area in which she worked that she believed could accommodate her. Unfortunately, that was not the case, for after having searched for a long period of time in the various stores on Route 30, frustrated and disappointed, she drove to downtown Amsterdam and tried to find a parking place in order to buy a card. This was before the construction of the mall.
During the year, June began to discuss her desire to go into business for herself, but there was a question as to what kind of business. And the location. So, when June took me aside and said that she had come to a decision, I responded with, "What is it this time? And she replied, "A Hallmark store. And somehow, in the way she said it, she had my attention.
And immediately, I said, "Wow." Then June told me of how she had been in contact with the developer of the Perth Plaza on Route 30 and was offered a store next to Loblow's Supermarket, which would be a great location in my opinion. She had already contacted Hallmark Cards and after doing a market research they told her that the area could support a Hallmark store, and after further discussions and planning, I said, "Go for it." And a lease was signed.
Therefore, on Sunday, Aug. 15, 1972, before invited guests and with the help of Congressman Sam Stratton, June cut the ceremonial ribbon and the card boutique was opened.
The following day, June went to church, as usual, drove to the plaza, walked into the store, turned on the lights, and realized that her dream had come true. During the days and weeks to follow, friends, relatives and strangers came in not only to shop, but to wish her well. Many of the new customers soon became friends as June always treated everyone who came in with open arms, which I always felt was the secret of her success.
As time progressed and her inventory expanded, she was surprised to discover that Grants, one of the major stores in the plaza, had filed for bankruptcy. The closing of Grants had an immediate impact on the other stores in the plaza, but June believed that it was the loyalty of her customers that brought her through this difficult period. Six months later, a knight on a white horse, in the form of Kmart, came riding in and settled in the plaza. Within weeks, the store was opened and business returned to normal.
Business continued to thrive in the plaza, but June began to think that the Hallmark design could be improved and was often heard to say that she would design her next store. The opportunity presented itself when June discovered through an article in the Recorder that a shopping center was going to open in Sanford Farms. She contacted the developer, being one of the first to sign, and chose a place in the middle of the mall. Hallmark was receptive for a bigger and better location for the new store.
When June created her design for the store, she had decided that she wanted to create an open-air atmosphere for the customer and that a gondola fixture would be more appropriate than standard fixtures. The gondolas can be multi-tiered and catch the customers' eyes when displaying merchandise. However, when June explained this design to her Hallmark representative, it seemed to fall on deaf ears. Obviously, the rep did not anticipate June's determination.
In May 1995, the store in the Sanford Plaza was completed, merchandise was ready to be shipped and yet, no store design. When the traditional store design was shipped, June rejected it. Finally, Hallmark's chief designer called and wanted to know the problem, which June explained in detail to him. He countered with the fact that this had never been done before and June answered, "Make my store the first." Promising to call her back, June waited but did not hear from him, but instead to her surprise she received a call from his boss, vice president of retail relations, who asked her directly what was wrong with the Hallmark design. June responded with every ounce of her Irish charm, explaining in detail her design plans. Following nearly 15 minutes of discussion, June emerged from hanging up the phone, smiling, and said, "I got what I wanted."
June did not want another grand opening, but in June of 1995, when the store opened, the amazement on the faces of the customers was satisfaction enough for her to realize that her ideas were a success. In 1997, this was further substantiated by the announcement that the June Hallmark Shoppe was one of the 200 stores nationwide to receive the Hallmark Excellence Award, the highest award that Hallmark gives the retailers. June went to Kansas City to receive her award, but refused to have a press release.
June had a gift for assisting people who came to select cards. They merely had to mention what kind of card or occasion they needed the card for and she would lead them directly to it and read two or three before they decided to choose one.
On Sept. 14 and 15, 2012, June's Hallmark is celebrating 40 years in business, and what is more important is that it will also be remembering and honoring June for all that she has done. Perhaps there are people who still have a favorite "June" story. If you do, please stop at the store and tell us.
Whether it was rooting for the favorite long shot coming down the homestretch at Saratoga, or watching a sunset on Siesta Key, having dinner with her favorite guy, and, yes, still having time to design her own store, June did some unusual things and somehow they turned out just right.
I am also sure that all who knew and loved her would say that June did things, "My Way."
June, I miss you and still love you. Thanks for the memories.