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Meet the Owner: Alfred Bahna of Hallmark

A lifelong resident of Windsor Terrace, Alfred Bahna knows his neighborhood.

Plenty of people remember when —it was, after all, only last year. 

But Alfred Bahna's memory goes back a little further. Not only does he remember when Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt rolled into town to shoot "As Good As it Gets" in 1997, he remembers clear on back to 1975, when Al Pacino stalked around Prospect Park West as the charmingly unhinged Sonny Wortzik in Sidney Lumet's cinematic masterpiece "Dog Day Afternoon." 

"Not a lot of people remember that," said Bahna, who, along with his sister Diane Larkin, has owned Hallmark, at 236 Prospect Park West, for 25 years. “I’ve been here a long time." 

Card Sharps

Bahna, 46, wasn't the first member of his family to fall into the greeting card business—that would be his mother and sister, who bought an existing shop a few blocks away in 1986. Bahna was studying criminal justice at the time, but upon finishing his degree, decided he'd rather take up cards than crooks. 

"We were always a close family, and we wanted to do something together," he said. "I loved the business so much I said 'Well, I’d rather do that with family then go and get shot.'”

The business was a success, and in 1988, the family decided to try and score an account with Hallmark—the Coca-Cola of greeting card brands, Bahna said. Aligning with Hallmark would give Bahna's shop the benefit of Hallmark branding, since most people were already familiar with the greeting card giant. 

After Hallmark agreed to sign on with the store in 1988, the business moved down the street to its current location, where it has been ever since. Bahna himself lives nearby on Prospect Avenue, as does most of his family. 

"My father comes in—he's a watchmaker—my son grew up working with me in here," Bahna said as he rang up a customer, a man he's known since they both attended high school at Bishop Ford. "This is a family store."

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

The Windsor Terrace Bahna lives in now is very different from the one he remembers growing up. 

The old Windsor Terrace, he said, consisted mainly of blue collar workers—cops, firefighters, teachers. Everyone went to church. But in the past few years, as more people trickle into Brooklyn from Manhattan, longtime residents are becoming increasingly scarce. 

"We’re getting more professionals, more yuppies, more movie stars, more of the up and coming—which is good," he said. "The bad part is that a lot of people who grew up here can’t afford to live here anymore." 

Bahna has made sure that his store keeps up with the times, moving away from some of Hallmark's stodgier, more small-town products and offering instead goods that appeal to Brooklyn's artisanal sensibilities—soy candles and fair trade totes made of natural materials sit on stands near the entrance, and collection of chunky earrings and rings rest on the front counter.  

Indeed, Hallmark's customer base is undergoing shifts similar to those seen in the rest of the neighborhood. While the store draws a lot of longtime regulars, Bahna has also seen an influx of tourists and recent transplants.  

In the end, he tries to keep a selection of items that appeal to everybody, mixing the new stock in with old standbys like cards and balloons. 

"We want to keep progressing with the neighborhood, and we’re very good at listening to what the people ask for," he said. "If they want something different, we’ll try to bring it in." 

Looking Forward

Unlike many stores of its kind, Bahna has been lucky. Business has been steady—so steady, in fact, that the last time things were truly rocky was in the late '80s, when the city replaced the trolley tracks on 9th Avenue with brick pavers, a process that disrupted nearby businesses so severely that 60 percent were forced to close. 

But like any shrewd businessman, Bahna has a back-up plan. He is currently working toward a master's degree in Special Education from Touro College, in the event that anything ever happens to the store. 

"Obviously it’s great to have your own business, but one of the drawbacks is you don’t have a retirement, you have to buy your own insurance," he said. "I try to be adaptable, you know?"

On the surface, the greeting card business is not a difficult one to break into—it doesn't require special training or skills—but it does require a lot of heart. 

"Anything working with people is for me. I love to talk, I love to share stories, I’m a good listener," he said. 

"Basically if you’re good with people and you're patient and willing to be open, it’s an easy thing to walk in to." 

peebstuff August 21, 2012 at 11:27 PM
how can you write an article about this store and leave out the friendly cat(s)?
DrWinstonOBoogie August 23, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Yuppies Suck. Go back to Nebraska and get the F out of MY neighborhood.
KitKats38 August 23, 2012 at 07:19 PM
The store is run by really great people!! Hearts of gold!! Its a joy to shop in their store and a treat to pass a few minutes chatting with them. Oh, and the cats are the best! But its a shame DrWinstonO/boogie is so parochial and feels he must have a soapbox for his hate, and nastiness!
Jay Campbell January 09, 2013 at 11:49 AM
Some of this story seems missing. Did you find out who owns the building?

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