Jen Esping, the owner of Jen’s Hallmark off Riverside Parkway in Lawrenceville for the past 21 years, is retiring. (Staff Photo)
LAWRENCEVILLE — After more than 21 years as the Jen of Jen’s Hallmark in Lawrenceville, owner Jennifer Esping is retiring and permanently closing the doors to her store on Riverside Parkway.
The Lawrenceville resident said a variety of factors have contributed to that decision, including market conditions, the store’s location, her desire to spend more time with her children — her daughter is starting middle school and her son is starting high school — as well as being financially able to do so.
“I’m going to decompress to start. I’m going to try to get my house organized and I’m planning to be at home for a while with my kids,” Esping, 47, said of retirement. “Will I never work? I don’t know. Right now I want to kind of focus on (my children) and see where that leads. I might end up doing something with the schools.”
Esping said she also has a passion for mentoring young women.
“That’s just been a huge pleasure to watch the young women come through my store, grow up, go to college, get what we call their ‘big girl’ job and kind of move on from here,” she said. “To be a part of that and watch them grow has been just a lot of fun for me. I can see myself kind of volunteering somewhere maybe … somehow nurturing young women is where I see myself.”
Esping, an engineer, originally came to own the Hallmark store when her father-in-law, a former retailer himself, decided he wanted a retail store for his retirement but didn’t want to run the location.
“His plan was to have a retail store and just hire a manager and he approached me and said, ‘Would you be interested?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, how hard can that be?’ I was 26 at the time and I thought, ‘Oh, this will be easy.’ Famous last words because it is far from easy,” she laughs.
But Esping took a chance and has spent the past 21 years in the retail industry, a very different career path from engineering. Her first store was in Norcross, and at one time she owned five different Hallmark stores, including locations in Suwanee, Dacula and Duluth, as well as a second location in Lawrenceville. The Riverside Parkway store is her last and longest-running store.
One of Esping’s favorite memories from owning the Riverside store involves princess tiaras.
“I had a group of managers that were amazing and they kind of joked that they were princesses and I was the queen, so I bought them tiaras one year,” she said. “They thought it was the funniest thing that they all got these little tiaras, and when they did something good in the store they would put their tiara on and say, ‘See!’”
While every princess needs a tiara, every queen needs a headpiece, too. For her birthday one year, the managers gave Esping a Swarovski Crystal bridal tiara, which she still holds on to.
“It was just very, very funny,” she remembered. “Just a lot of memories of laughter.”
Throughout the years, Esping said, she has watched some customers’ children grow up and get married.
“We sell stuff to celebrate, so people are celebrating when they’re here,” she said. “That’s a nice way to be in business.”
Despite retiring from selling greeting cards, Esping still believes strongly in the power of a card.
“Even with all the technology we have today and people texting and emailing and stuff like that, there’s a difference when you open your mailbox and you see a card that was handwritten for you,” she said. “It just means something.”
Texting, emailing and other forms of electronic communication tend to be functional, Esping said.
“You know, meet me here, get this, don’t forget this at the grocery store. It’s very functional communication, and I think that when you go to a card and you try to express your feelings, that is very different from the functional communications we have,” she said. “When you see a card in your mailbox, it’s special. You open it up and you know that person was thinking of you and that, to me, is just really important.”
Jen’s Hallmark is holding a retirement sale now until all products and store fixtures are sold. The store is located at 2100 Riverside Parkway. For more information, call 770-339-6345.