Personal service means more than an amenity at where customers are remembered and valued long after the sale is rung up on the register.
The doors of this local retail enterprise originally opened at 196 Park St. (now home to Pearce Construction) in February 1963, after the late Edward Carr worked weekends for seven years to build his first store, literally block by block.
Carr, a World War II Army Corps of Engineers veteran and recipient of seven Bronze Stars, awarded following seven invasions of enemy territories, fulfilled his long-held dream of opening his own business.
He first moved to North Reading from Medford in 1954, and worked for a Boston stationer until opening his business. In 1955, he married the former Gloria Mazzotti, who came to North Reading from Roxbury.
The family business moved from its Park Street location in 1972 to the present shopping plaza, and again in 1979 to its current location near 's new site.
Today, Gloria Carr is a familiar, beloved "consultant" behind the counter. In addition to browsing merchandise, family friends and customers frequently stop in to say "hello" and leave prayer intentions with Gloria, who is a member of the Prayer Tree at .
Daughters Karen and MaryEllen Carr regularly handle the day-to-day purchasing, inventory, sales and all other tasks associated with running this longtime popular card and gift venue, where the family welcomes the opportunity to assist customers in search of "just the right gift" amid the store's wide array of merchandise.
While growing up, MaryEllen and Karen attended local schools and graduated from . After "hanging around" the store in their spare time as young children, the sisters began formally working there during their high school years, and they have remained ever since.
MaryEllen took time out to receive a degree in accounting from Bentley College (now Bentley University) and returned full-time to the shop to apply her expertise to financial matters, as well as other aspects of the retail business.
As she sincerely noted: "We enjoy having our business in North Reading, since we live here and went to North Reading schools."
Looking back, MaryEllen remarked on the many memorable visits to the shop around the early-1980s by Boston's KISS 108 radio celebrity Dale Dorman, who lived in a nearby town and was a regular at the store. With a grin, she remembered speculating on who at the radio station would be the lucky recipient of a holiday grab gift once purchased by Dorman — KISS 108's Lisa Lipps, perhaps?
For those unfamiliar with Carr's extensive inventory, the shop offers a large selection of seasonal items, including Hallmark 's collectible tree ornaments and figurines, which are on display around the holidays.
According to the family, perennially popular lines of merchandise include handbags and purses by Vera Bradley, Lolita wine glasses, Willow Tree angels and Yankee Candles.
Children especially love the store's three-dimensional bookmarks, located on the check-out counter, and I noted a number of toys from the Melissa & Doug line, a relatively new store offering and a personal favorite of mine.
Right now, customers are invited to browse First Communion gifts and a variety of unique jewelry items for Mother's Day, May 8, or perhaps check out new and classic gifts for an upcoming wedding or shower. Free gift wrapping for all store-purchased items is also available.
Throughout the years, Carr's Hallmark & Gifts has been a proud sponsor and contributor to many local charities. In addition, after turning off the lights and locking the door, MaryEllen, a 10-year member of North Reading Rotary Club, often spends time involved with Rotary activities.
A member of the Reading-North Reading Chamber of Commerce, MaryEllen also participates in the Christian Community Service Dare to Begin program, which, according to the organization's website, "awards interest-free loans to persons with low incomes who use the North Reading Food Pantry and are approved by a panel of business people and representatives from North Reading churches."
The Carr family hopes that the economy soon brightens for all and that their shop's sales also begin to recover, so they can confidently look forward to celebrating the business' 50-year anniversary in 2013.
As Karen said: "It's nice; many customers over the years have become our friends."
"And we look forward to meeting more in the future," MaryEllen added.