By Kate Milewski
---- — TRAVERSE CITY -- Kim Kierczynski opened Kim's Hallmark in East Bay Plaza 30 years ago because she didn't want to sell paint.
"My dad owned a lumber company and he wanted me to open a paint store," Kierczynski said. "I was interested in a Hallmark store, so I started investigating and I saw an availability in Traverse City.
"I think it was the type of company that Hallmark was back then (that drew me to it). I think it was just the atmosphere and being able to help people communicate with others."
In the years since, the product mix in Kierczynski's 3,200-square-foot store changed with the times. In addition to greeting cards, she has carried a mix of gifts and seasonal merchandise.
"My parents used to always say that my product mix seemed to reflect what I was going through in life," she said. "When I first got married, it seemed like I carried more baby product. When I was pregnant, I would carry baby stuff.
"Then when I started going out to see my parents in Arizona, I started carrying Southwest products."
Kierczynski shopped gift shows and worked with company reps to select her product mix. She said the economic slump and the advent of digital media posed challenges over the years. So have changes in the way people shop.
"Back in the day, if you wanted a Hallmark card, you had to go to a Hallmark store to get it," she said. "Now, you can find them a lot of other places. That's the change that I've seen. The competition is just what it's all about for most any company nowadays."
And how people communicate changed drastically. Kierczynski said many of her clients are older people who are less likely to try to send an ecard or text message to wish someone a happy birthday or send them a congratulations.
The changing landscape of technology aside, Kierczynski believes cards remain relevant.
"I think people still enjoy getting a card," she said. "It's really nice to get something in the mail, something somebody hand wrote on the envelope. I think that people don't want to just get bills in their mailbox every day."
Making people happy is a big part of why Kierczynski keeps at it, even through tough times. She loves working with people and spending time with her customers and employees.
"It's been really fortunate, the help that I've had in this store," she said. "I started out with an employee and after I gave birth to my first son, I asked her if she would take on the management role. She did so enthusiastically and that allowed me more time to be with my family."
That particular manager was with her store more than a decade. Now that her kids have grown up, Kierczynski spends more time in the shop.
"My favorite part is just being able to serve the community," she said. "I get people telling me 'please don't leave' and that's probably the best part.
"When you get the feedback like we do, the compliments we get "¦ that's probably what makes me feel the best. The customers really appreciate us and want us to stay here."