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After more than 40 years in the Calvert Village Shopping Center in Prince Frederick, Ralon’s Hallmark Gold Crown is closing its doors at the end of February.
“Altogether, it’s been a good adventure,” said Edith Ralon, the store’s owner. “It’s been interesting and I’ve really enjoyed it. Of course, I enjoyed meeting the people and knowing them over the years. And I really hate to disappoint them with the store closing, but I have no choice.”
Ralon said it was a hard decision, but it’s time for her to retire.
“I’m 84 and because of our ages and health, it’s more than time for me to retire,” Ralon, of Lusby, explained. “There’s not too many women my age, 84, still running a business. They might own it, but they’re not out there actively in it.”
Although there is no one to take over or buy the store, Ralon and her husband, Carlos Ralon, said they hoped someone would come forward. She said there was a potential Hallmark dealer, but that fell through.
The situation is still surreal for Sarah Beth Ogle, who has worked there for 37 years. She said she thinks she’s going to be lost when the store closes.
Tearing up, Ogle said, “I just love that store. You know, the customers you get to know, man, some of them are just like family,” which she said makes it a dying breed of store. “That’s gonna be sad. You figure for over half of my life, the store has been, like, it. I’m gonna be lost for sure.”
Edith Ralon, too, said a lot of her customers feel like family after all these years.
“When you go in there and it was such a family atmosphere, you just became family,” Ogle said, adding that they all took care of each other.
“Now she knows more people than I do,” said Carlos Ralon, Edith’s husband. “… She knows when they get sick, when they’re dying, ‘cause they come in to get a card for their event.”
Edith Ralon explained that she and her husband didn’t own a business prior to Carlos Ralon’s decision to open a music store, Ralon’s Music Co., in the shopping center in the 1970s. Carlos Ralon, a piano technician, said later on, the couple bought the business next door to his music shop, a small gift shop that sold Hallmark cards.
At first, Edith Ralon continued to just sell the Hallmark cards as Ralon’s Hallmark Cards and Gifts.
“Somebody told my husband to get a Hallmark store next door,” Edith Ralon said.
In about 1980, when Edith Ralon expanded her store’s square footage and the greeting card inventory to where her husband’s music store was, she changed the store’s name to Ralon’s Hallmark Cards.
Then, in the 1990s, when the store was moved to its current location in the Calvert Village Shopping Center, the name changed again to Ralon’s Hallmark Gold Crown.
According to Hallmark’s corporate website, Hallmark Gold Crown stores are not franchises and, instead, operate under licensing agreements to use the Hallmark Gold Crown name and carry Hallmark products.
Ogle said Edith Ralon has been the best boss she could have ever asked for. “She’s got a lot of good qualities,” she said.
She added that Edith Ralon trusted her workers to take initiative and gave them “unbelievable freedom.”
“We’d like to thank the people for their business over the years,” said Carlos Ralon. “And of course, our employees,” added Edith Ralon.