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Still in the family

June’s Hallmark in Amsterdam hits 40 years, card and gift shop remains in family hands

September 17, 2012
By AMANDA MAY METZGER , The Leader Herald

AMSTERDAM - Though June's Hallmark celebrated its 40-year anniversary without its pioneering female entrepreneur, founder June Czelusniak, her principles remain a hallmark of the store as it remains in family hands.

According to family and friends, the store Czelusniak ran was a reflection of her warm and giving nature. She died at age 79 in May 2010.

On Friday and Saturday the store, located in the Sanford Farms Plaza on Route 30, celebrated the anniversary with a ribbon cutting and special discounts.

Article Photos

Leonard Czelusniak, in blue shirt, owner of June’s
Hallmark of Amsterdam, gets ready to cut a ribbon with Lauren Chatnik, in the pink dress, family, store
employees, friends and Chamber officials out front of the store on Route 30 on Friday.
The Leader-Herald/ Bill Trojan

Changes in technology and culture have shaped the greeting card industry since 1972 when Czelusniak opened what was originally called Card Boutique.

In the mid 1990s, the store became June's Hallmark and moved to the Sanford Farms Plaza where it stands today.

Store Manager Barbara Bianchi has worked in the shop since 1983. She remembered Czelusniak as an excellent example of a female entrepreneur who faced struggles in the 1970s in securing a loan and owning a business.

She received awards for her work, including the Hallmark Excellence Award in 1997 and the Thomas B. Constantino Entrepreneurial Award from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce in January 2010.

Today, June's Hallmark spans about 2 1/2 times the space of the original Card Boutique, Bianchi said.

"June just loved the business. She loved people, and people still come in and talk about her. She was such an upbeat person who always tried to give people what they wanted," Bianchi said.

Through the decades, Bianchi has witnessed changes in the industry and the store. Greeting cards have gone from sentiments on simple paper to intricate gifts that can include songs or a personally-recorded message.

In the 1980s alternative cards, which were given for no particular occasion but just as a reminder of one's thoughts for another, became popular, according to the website for the industry trade organization the Greeting Card Association.

"Today, there are cards for every occasion," Bianchi said. "There is more availability of [merchandise] for customers, so you really have to keep up with new trends and the latest gifts. It's changed. The customers have changed, but basically it's still the same; People want to remember their special occasions."

Keeping up with customer demand is something Czelusniak's granddaughter, Lauren Chatnik, has excelled at as the store's buyer and visual merchandiser, Bianchi said.

For instance, the store now stocks a wide array of Vera Bradley products. Everything from fleece throws in the signature Vera Bradley patterns to weekend bags, purses and stationary sets are available.

Chatnik said she's also expanded the store's jewelry collection and other items while keeping in stock the mainstays such as Yankee Candles and Willow Tree figurines.

"I think Lauren brings fresh, young ideas to the store. We've gotten a lot of new products in the past 1 1/2 years," Bianchi said.

The store employs about a dozen people depending on the season.

When Chatnik, who grew up in Guilderland, was young she helped her grandmother in the store, and while she didn't expect to be working in it one day, she said she always figured she'd work in business.

"I always assumed I'd have some business career. Here, I've been trying to bring in different items and branch out, try new [items] like jewelry and bags. It's a trial and error process," Chatnik said.

At June's Hallmark, Chatnik has been sure to remember the lessons her grandmother taught her when she was younger, and there were many, she said.

"She taught me the business, and she taught me a lot about people," Chatnik said. She recalled an instance when she was at the store with her grandmother and failed to greet one of her grandmother's friends.

"I remember she wouldn't give me a troll [doll] because I wouldn't look her friend in the eye," Chatnik recalled. "She taught me about being friendly, and just business in general."

Another family lesson came from watching how her grandfather, Len, supported his wife's business.

"My grandfather was a big supporter of my grandmother. He was definitely a big reason why she could do this," she said.

Bianchi added, "she really did have the support of him from the beginning."

The transition after Czelusniak died brought challenges, but they were met with dedication by the family, including Lauren Chatnik's father, Gary, who helped to keep the store operating.

"My dad - he's been a big supporter in keeping this place running smoothly," Chatnik said.

The support of customers after June's death - many who travel from as far away as Speculator, Bianchi said -also have helped the store in its transition.

"Without our customers, it really would have been tough," Bianchi said.

Chatnik added, "they've helped re-establish the store as well."

"It's definitely a tribute to her memory that so many people are coming in remembering her," she said.

Just as June's Hallmark remains a family business, Hallmark Cards also is operated by two grandsons of its original founder Joyce Clyde Hall, who founded Hall Brothers when he was 18.

Hallmark Cards was founded in 1910. The company is headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., and posted consolidated annual revenues of $4.1 billion in 2011.

According to the Greeting Card Association's website, the idea of sending written mementos to mark significant life moments traces back to the ancient Chinese and Egyptian cultures - the Chinese exchanging New Year cards and the Egyptians exchanging greetings on papyrus scrolls.

Then the timeline jumps to the 15th century during which Germans printed New Year's cards from woodcuts. It wasn't until the1850s when greeting cards went mainstream, from a pricey often hand-made gift to a common and affordable way of exchanging sentiments.

According to the association, that was largely due to advanced printing capabilities and the introduction of the postage stamp in 1840.

The greeting card became popular in the United States after a German immigrant named Louis Prang started a lithographic business in 1856 while living in Boston.

According to the GCA, it was Prang who perfected the color lithographic process, which lead to the popularity of greeting cards.

In the 1950s the humor card gained popularity with greetings called "studio cards" which were long cards that ended with a punch line.

Chatnik said business at the June's has picked up as fall and then Christmas approaches. Christmas and the holidays remain the store's busiest season, with Mother's Day coming in second, she said.



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