By Margaret Butt
Operating my two Hallmark franchises in St. John’s and Mount Pearl, N.L., is both fun and challenging. Anyone who has spent any time in the retail industry can appreciate the challenges, but running these stores is a particularly happy and rewarding experience, as we get to help people express and deliver heartfelt messages to those they love. After more than 100 years in business, Hallmark’s mantra is, ‘When you care enough to send the very best.’ I work to be part of that equation every day.
A dream of teaching
I’ve always lived in St. John’s. I have two brothers and we grew up enjoying being in a city where lots of people always knew each other.
My mom kept me out of trouble by keeping me busy. I was in figure skating until I was coaching at the amateur level. I swam from an early age and lifeguarded through university. I got involved in Girl Guides of Canada starting at the Brownies level and became a leader. I may still fill in today if a leader is needed.
When I was a kid, I thought I might eventually become a teacher when I grew up, as I wanted to work with children. And specifically, I was interested in languages. I was seven years old when Canada celebrated its 100th birthday and we travelled to Montreal for Expo 67, trading houses with a local family my father knew in a French-speaking neighbourhood. By that point, I had only learned a little French from a TV show, but the experience inspired me to continue taking classes throughout my school years.
Then, after I started my degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), I had to spend time in residence in a French-speaking area as part of my program. While many students travelled to Quebec, I decided instead to spend the semester studying in France’s overseas collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon. It’s the last remaining vestige of the colonial empire of New France, located about 14 miles off Newfoundland’s coast, and it remains under French control to this day.
As Saint Pierre was part of a different country, we had to go through customs and use the local currency, which would be euros today, but was still francs back then. It felt like any other small community, but very French in that it felt delineated by social class. We students, however, had the opportunity to cross all of these lines as we gave English lessons to the locals, so I was able to gain a lot from the experience.
After we came back to Newfoundland from Saint Pierre, I noticed most of my fellow graduates went on to work for the federal government, which didn’t interest me. As for my dream of teaching, hiring numbers in that field were on the decline. So, it was time to explore other options.
Cards and the pharmacy
My family owned Parkdale Pharmacy, which had been a Hallmark partner since 1956, carrying a selection of its greeting cards. This section of the store gained quite a local following, as we kept it full, neat and tidy and there were no stand-alone card stores back then.
It was an important enough part of the family business that we always had someone on staff who was dedicated to that section. And when that woman went on maternity leave, I took on the job as an after-school shift, when I was in Grade 7 and 8.
Between the experience of the pharmacy and a stint working as a clerk for the city’s general hospital and health care centre, I thought nursing might be a good fit for me. So, after graduating from MUN, I went to nursing school, where I got my diploma and then a full degree. Then I went on to work in critical care and emergency departments at the hospital.
We also operated a Hallmark store in a mall in the 1970s and ’80s, but we found that was a harder model to make profitable. The rent was high, but the landlord was not able to give us enough space to grow.
By the mid-’80s, my family noticed a trend where some pharmacies were starting to specialize in home health-care equipment and supplies. My dad said, “You’re the nurse, let’s look into this!”