Nathan L.

Owners will close the store by March 31 if it's not sold

Barb Ackerman and Betty Dahlen have been

business partners for eight years at the Baker City Hallmark store that

bears their first names, and they've been friends a lot longer than


In fact, they met in the late 1970s while attending a Marriage

Encounter weekend with their spouses, Jay and Wade - an apt metaphor

for forging a successful and lasting business partnership.

"A business partnership is like a marriage," Ackerman said. "You stay in it during good times and bad, through thick and thin."

But it's all coming to a close by March 31 at the latest, when the

business partners will either close their downtown store or have sold

it to someone.

That's when the lease expires on their building, at 1829 Main St. The

women have had their business for sale for more than two years, but so

far haven't had any takers at the asking price of around $100,000,

which includes all the store's merchandise and fixtures, but not the


It's not a matter of the down economy, the two women said during a weekend interview in the office above their store. In fact, they've had their best December ever.

"We hate to see Hallmark leave the community," Dahlen said.

"It's been listed both locally and nationally, but so far no takers," Ackerman said. "It's kind of disheartening.

"We have mixed emotions," she added about their efforts to sell the place. "If we can't find a buyer, it makes me sad."

It's just time to retire, and the two are hoping that a buyer materializes before the crocuses emerge in springtime to keep going one of the few Hallmark stores in the region.

The two women think the perfect buyer would be a mother/daughter combination. It takes a pair of owners to comfortably keep the operation open at least six days a week.

The La Grande store closed last spring, too bad for card- and Christmas tree-ornament buyers in that community but good for Barb and Betty's business, since the Hallmark brand has what the two businesswomen describe as a dedicated throng of passionate customers.

Oddly enough, retirement will allow the business partners and friends to spend more time together, since they now must stagger their schedules so that at least one owner is always on duty.

"Our kids grew up together, and we used to spend a lot of time together camping and vacationing," Dahlen said.

One of the joys of the job is the opportunity not only to get just the right greeting card in a person's hands, but to learn something new about their business, and Dahlen learned something new just last weekend. A woman asked for a golden birthday card, which Dahlen logically thought was a 50th birthday card.

It turns out, however, that everybody has one golden birthday in their life. A woman who's 26 years old on the 26th of the month, for example, is celebrating her one and only golden birthday.

"Our customers," she said, "teach us a lot."

Both women said the Hallmark brand has been a wonderful support for their business, an opinion amplified by their customer Connie Melton, a former Hallmark store owner when she lived in San Diego in the last 1970s and early 1980s.

"This is a good Hallmark shop," Melton said of Barb and Betty's, lamenting only that she couldn't shop there more often. "I loved owning a Hallmark store. You never didn't want to come to work, where you spent your day opening boxes, wrapping gifts and helping people shop for gifts that people loved."

Melton said one of her fondest memories is reading cards aloud for her older customers who couldn't see well enough to make their selection. She'd read as many cards as it took, she said, for the selection to be made.

"That's part of the service, and it's service that makes people keep coming back," she said.

Dahlen and Ackerman have told most of their regular customers about their retirement plans, news most have met with some form of "Oh no!," the women said.

"One woman had tears in her eyes," Dahlen said. "She said, 'What are we going to do?' People say they understand and they do, but we're sure going to miss them."