Christine and Patrick Molitor have traveled many roads during their marriage. Early paths were dramatic. Some turns were pragmatic, and some came from the mouths of babes.
“We worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service,” Christine Molitor says. “That’s where we met in Minnesota 30 years ago.”
Their jobs required constant moves.
“We were working at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin and came to an unusual crossroad. We were going to move to Idaho and become smoke jumpers, or we were going to move to Michigan and open Hallmark stores,” Christine explains.
“One choice was our passion, and one was logic—the best choice for having a family and for settling down,” she says. “We made the Hallmark choice in 1996.”
The couple opened two stores in Battle Creek, Michigan, then moved to Patrick’s home state of Minnesota and opened three stores. When Christine gave birth to their first son, the couple cut back.
“It was too much. We wanted to focus on him and one store,” she says.
Their second son was born five years later.
The Molitors had planned to expand their business again when their younger child started kindergarten. But a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina changed everything.
“It was our youngest boy’s first trip to the beach,” Christine explains.
As the family enjoyed the sun and sea, the older boy asked, “With all of this is out here, why do we live in Minnesota?” His parents replied that their store was in Minnesota. “Can’t you buy more down here?” the boy asked, undeterred.
The child’s question – and harsh Minnesota weather – ultimately prompted a plan and more change.
They laid a map on a table, and the whole family circled places they might like to live. Greenville won out.
“We liked everything about the Upstate … the business climate, the people, the schools. It just seemed like the right fit,” Christine says.
In 2015, the Molitors bought existing Hallmark stores in Simpsonville, Greenville (now relocated to Easley) and Greer. Each one was re-branded as Christine’s Hallmark Gift Shop.
“We bought all three at once,” Christine says. “That was an undertaking. We moved ourselves. We moved my parents. It was a challenging year.”
Hallmark’s corporate headquarters is in Kansas City, Missouri. But the stores are not franchises.
“We don’t pay them a franchise fee. We don’t pay them a portion of our income. They don’t tell us what to order. Hallmark is our major vendor. We probably have about 200 other vendors, but Hallmark is our major vendor,” Christine says.
It’s unique. We’re just independent business owners.”
Hallmark doesn’t even require stores to stock its greeting cards, Patrick says.
“We want to buy them,” he explains. “Hallmark cards are the best.”
Hallmark was founded by JC Hall, who stepped off of a train in Kansas City in 1910 with two shoeboxes of postcards. Today, the company is run by his grandsons.
“It is a business. But we are providing a service,” Patrick says. “People need the Hallmark stores for whatever occasion it might be it. Happy. Sad. Birthdays. Anniversaries.”
Each of the couple’s stores is completely different, Christine says. That’s four stores: They still own the store in Elk River, Minnesota.
“We couldn’t let it go. It’s our baby. It’s just such a beautiful store,” Christine says.
The 7,500-square-foot store is considered the “Bass Pro Shop for women” in Elk River, Christine says.
“Men tell us, ‘My wife doesn’t care what I get as long as it comes from here,'” she says.
The Molitors want customers in the Upstate to see them the same way, as a full-service gift shop.
Yes, we’re a card store. But we’re not an old-fashioned card store. We don’t have only knicckknacks and sun catchers. We’ve got substantial, nice things. We run a different type of Hallmark store. The things that we buy are unique,” Christine says.
One substantial change in the gift shop business is a shift away from collectibles and seasonal items. Because of shipping delays, the couple also tries to source more items that are made in the United States.
“The most challenging thing is figuring out what people are going to want,” Christine says. “When we go to the Atlanta gift show, there are floors and floors and floors of gifts. Thousand and thousands of gifts. It’s not consignment … Every time we buy, we go out on a limb.”
Some traditions remain.
“Our No. 1 seller is the Hallmark Keepsake ornaments,” Christine says. “We have our midnight pajama party in July where we premiere our ornaments. People in Greer line up on the sidewalk in their pajamas. It is a sight to see.”
The Molitors want customers to feel comfortable every time they walk through the door. “The music has to be right. The fragrance has to be right. We’re not a big box store, so we don’t want it to feel like a big box store. We feel like it’s just an extension of our home,” Christine says.
“You will receive outstanding customer service,” Patrick says.
The stores carry men’s products, even gifts for teenage boys.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re shopping for. You can come in with a Christmas list or birthday list. We have a whole section of Star Wars. We have Harry Potter,” Christine says.
“We want people … if they are on their way to a wedding … to be able to buy a gift, get the card, pick out a gift bag or paper and ribbons or bows. By the time they walk out, they’re set.”
The Molitors work long hours, but they say their sons (now ages 18 and 13) always come first.
“The two of them are our absolute No. 1 priority, then the stores are after that. We had a lot of kids. We’ve got our four stores and our two boys,” Christine says.
“It’s snowed this morning in Minnesota, so we’re happy to be here.”