Customers flock to Greetings and Readings to say goodbye to retail landmark in Hunt Valley

Yula Ponticas, 61, of Towson, was exercising early Friday morning when she saw on the news that longtime Baltimore retailer Greetings & Readings plans to close its doors in January. “No!” she said out loud.

Her mother, Chris Ponticas, 83, of Timonium, read the news in the paper. The first person she wanted to tell was her daughter.

Later that day, the mother-daughter duo were in Greetings & Readings for one last shopping trip together, alongside dozens of others who made the pilgrimage. The checkout line, usually only 10 deep according to regular customers, stretched hundreds of feet across the store to the back wall and beyond Friday afternoon.

“I’m going to miss it, that’s for sure,” Chris Ponticas said.

The independent, family-owned seller of books, greeting cards, jewelry, apparel, handbags and gifts announced plans Thursday to close its sprawling store in Hunt Valley Towne Center on Jan. 20, after 49 years in operation. The business employs 80 people.

Store Vice President Steve Spund, one of five family members running the business, said sales have been declining for several years.

“There are certainly several factors involved, but the main one is it’s impossible to compete with the Internet and online sales and Amazon, when they are offering pricing that we pay and they can get it to you for free,” Spund said. “We can’t compete.”

Store greeter Scott Wills said that in the four years he has worked at Greetings & Readings, he has seen a decline in the number of customers.

“I think they tried everything – it’s just hard to fight the Internet,” Wills said. “Amazon’s a tough nut to crack, I think.”

But for the customers streaming into the store and emptying shelves during a storewide 30 percent off closing sale, Amazon does not stack up to the experience of a family-run, brick-and-mortar store.

Carol Grimm said she makes the 30-minute drive from her home in Finskburg about once a month; she has been shopping at Greetings & Readings on and off for about 35 years.

“It was something you relied on, you knew it was always going to be here,” she said.

She said she understood the Internet has made it hard to keep the store open, but is still disappointed.

“OK, I guess we have to change with the times, but people used to just love going out shopping, browsing, or whatever,” Grimm said. “I guess eventually we’re all just going to be stuck at home with a mouse in our hands.”

“It’s just sad,” said Debbie Shavitz, of Pikesville, a 20-year Greetings and Readings customer. “I think Amazon, as much as I love being able to order online, it’s made a dent in so many stores. So many people have lost their jobs over this; that’s devastating.”

Greetings & Readings was not just a store for many shoppers; it was a family tradition. Yula Ponticas said her grandmother, born in 1905, loved shopping there, as does her mother today. When Ponticas had her son 29 years ago, she bought the birth announcements at iGreetings & Readings.

“It’s just sad to see that the Internet is making places like this close down,” said Chris Ponticas. “This is a family place.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this story.

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