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After 37 years, owners of Crystal’s Hallmark to retire

Coralwood location set to reopen as Hallmark corporate store

March 27, 2020
By KATIE EGAN (news@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

At the end of the month, the Cape Coral community won't just be losing one of its favorite card and gift shops. It'll losing a part of the family.

After 37 years at the helm, owners Nancy and Dave Kreller have decided to retire.

Crystal's Hallmark Shoppe, in the Coralwood Shopping Center, will still be a Hallmark store, but it will be a little different.

Article Photos

Katie Egan

Crystal’s Hallmark carried a wide variety of greeting cards.

The Hallmark company stepped in to turn the privately owned location into a corporate store, but the owners aren't sure if the staff - affectionately called "the girls" - will get to stay on board.

Corporate stores are called Amy's Hallmark while individually owned locations have various other names, like Crystal's, which is located at 2301 Del Prado Blvd., South.

Nancy Kreller managed the North Fort Myers Hallmark store until 1977.

The Krellers bought Crystal's Hallmark in 1983.

Much like Crystal's is part of its customers' families, the store is another member of the Krellers'.

Their daughters worked there. They grew up there, too.

Many of the 12 employees have worked there for decades - one for 27 years and two for 17. And those are just three examples.

The Krellers announced their retirement around Christmas.

"If it were just a matter of product and selling, that's rewarding, but if it weren't for the people involved, it wouldn't mean the same," Nancy said.

They're not sure yet what their future holds, but the Krellers are happy to have an idea of what the future of their store will look like.

"We've had a good business and they don't want to lose that in the Cape," Nancy said.

"It's pretty rare that corporate takes over a store," Dave said. "It has to be a productive store and they have to have a financial reason to come in."

Crystal's will be closed for a period of time after March 31.

Dave says it could be for two to three weeks, or maybe longer.

The store will be completely remodeled.

Hallmark is also going to interview the current employees.

"Hopefully for the Cape, they'll see the same people here," Nancy said.

"When we found out corporate was interested, that was a blessing. We were happy for the community and happy for our girls who work here."

Dave added that that's good for the customers, too.

"They know the customers and they know people in the Cape," he said. "They have good relationships and associations with them."

If Crystal's didn't become a corporate store, there would only be three brick and mortar Hallmark stores left in Lee County.

Chris's Hallmark Shop is in Bonita Springs, and Kay's Hallmark Shop and Amy's Hallmark Shop are in Fort Myers.

Usually the privately owned stores are named after someone in the family.

"Like Kay's," Nancy said. "The gentleman who owns it now, that was his mom."

"When we bought Crystal's, they had this nice, beautiful sign out front that said Crystal's Hallmark, but that's just what they named it. There never was a Crystal. We thought, 'The sign is there. People know it as Crystal's. We'll keep it as Crystal's."

The Cape Coral Hallmark store also carries a line of Swarovski crystals - so the name fits.

About half of what they sell are Hallmark products. Crystal's also carries other brands like Swarovski and Vera Bradley.

"Hallmark is a very family, personal business," Dave said. "Personal expressions are what it's all about. From cards to whatever the occasion is, whether it's an anniversary or whatever, to gifts for different occasions so it's a place people could come for people they care about and find a gift, a memory, an expression of their love, whatever it might have been."

Crystal's also became a place where people could go when they needed a friend to talk to.

"Someone is going through a trial in life, they come in and look for a card for a different occasion, maybe they've lost a family member," Dave said. "And then they know us so we'll talk with them and try to encourage them."

The girls and the Krellers were also there for customers they didn't know.

"Often times they don't even know us," Nancy said. "Someone will come up and if they have a sympathy card or something, they'll be teary-eyed and they'll just talk to them and comfort them.

"How often are you going to find that?"

When the Krellers realized their lease was up, they knew it was time to retire.

They're getting older, Dave said, and there are other things they want to do in life.

The Krellers plan to travel and spend more time with their grandchildren. They have two in Ohio and two in Southwest Florida.

"We'll keep busy at church," Nancy said. "And just have time to retire."

Regardless of what happens, she says the employees plan to get together often.

"It's really more like a family than the typical store arrangement," Nancy said. "They care about each other and what's going on in their lives."

They even leave notes for each other on their lockers.

"It's cool," Nancy said. "The same way for the customers, it's like family."

As customers have come in to buy cards to mark important life milestones, they've gotten to know the Krellers and their staff.

"They'll buy a card for a wedding or something and you'll hear about their family and you get to see their kids grow up," Nancy said.

Dave used to be a math teacher and a principal in Cape Coral, so he's seen a lot of former students grow up.

"The kids I had in school in the '70s are grandparents now," he said. "You'll see their kids and their grandkids and they'll be in here as customers."

Debbie Ford has been coming to Crystal's for the past 15 years.

The store sponsors the 18-member Crystal's Keepsakers Hallmark Club.

"It's a good feeling when you go in there. It became family," she said. "If you're looking for something, you would ask and the owners would come out and talk to you. They're good people."

"They do things for other without expecting reimbursement or payment."

The Krellers always greeted Ford with a hug and asked how she was doing.

"Even though Publix and Walmart sell Hallmark cards, it's so much nicer to get it from the Hallmark store. It's family. It's a good feeling when you go in there," Ford said before her voice started to break. "It's like having your church for your entire life burn down."

"You felt comfortable, you didn't feel pressured to buy something," she said. "Going into a very familiar place like a hometown store like Andy Griffith. Everyone knew everyone."

Jane King has been employed at Crystal's Hallmark for about 17 years.

She's stayed for nearly two decades because of the owners.

King says the Krellers treat their staff with respect and value their options.

"I can't tell you how many people come in every day and are so sorry the store is closing," she said. "We treat customers with respect. We always help people and try and find them the perfect gift and the right card. We listen to them."

Customers also like to come in and chat with the employees, who have become their friends.

"They know they can count on the girls there to listen to their stories, and I think that's why the store is so important to them (the customers)," King said. "You don't find that anywhere else.'

If King and her coworkers get to stay on when Crystal's becomes Amy's Hallmark, she wants to try and continue the Krellers' legacy.

"Nancy knows what she's doing and she has a great eye for things. The customers are going to miss that. They can always depend on their store."

Maggie Lann has also worked at Crystal's for 17 years.

"We just have a real good relationship with each other," she said. "We work well together. Nancy and Dave are so easy to work for. And I love the store and everyone loves Hallmark. It's the best place I've ever worked."

When asked what the store has meant to the community for the past 37 years, Lann called it an icon.

"Some of the customers have been in tears," she said. "The store means that much to them."

Linda DeBar has been a customer for 10 to 12 years.

She remembers when she found out Crystal's was closing.

"My husband and I sat in the car and we were like, 'What? No!' They can't retire.'"

"We love them so much. And the girls. They care. They're helpful. They don't think any question at all is silly. We are praying very hard that our girls get to stay with the Hallmark store."

It's going to be a sad day when Crystal's closes at the end of the month.

"One of girls is going to call me and let me know when everyone is going to be there for the final time so we can be there and cry buckets with them."

The staff at Crystal's Hallmark is even going to save an autographed apron for DeBar.

It's so much more than a brick and mortar store.

It's a family.

 
 
 

 

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