You'd think that after a 21-year relationship, Hallmark Cards Inc. and a long-time Washington card shop owner would be able to reach an amicable settlement of a dispute over the proposed location of a new store. Instead, the relationship is being severed in a public spat that need not have taken place.

There's a lot more going on here than is implied by a mere disagreement over store location, however. In fact, the location by itself isn't the problem, according to a Hallmark spokesman. It's the "financial dynamics of the situation," he explained.

At issue is whether Hallmark acted properly by refusing to permit Linda Anderson, an independent card shop owner, to continue selling the company's products when she moves to a new store. The new location is just across the street from where Anderson sold Hallmark and other greeting cards for seven years. Hallmark contends, however, that the new store at 13th and G streets NW wouldn't be economically viable. The facts suggest otherwise.

Besides being in a new building, the store's location would be at a prime downtown site at Metro Center, above the hub of the region's subway system. It is in the downtown office and retail core, making it easily accessible to thousands of downtown workers, an important element in retail support.

Hallmark's actions in the dispute have been described as racist because Anderson is black. There may be an element of that but there's hardly enough evidence to say that is the basis for Hallmark's decision. On the contrary, the facts indicate that Hallmark either didn't do its homework very well or that it is perhaps overly cautious or defensive about the placement of its products. There is also the possibility that it prefers to sign an agreement with someone who is willing to sell Hallmark products exclusively at another downtown location.

Supposedly, Hallmark conducted an economic viability study based on the rent structure in the building in question and determined that Anderson's new store wouldn't be profitable. "Based on what we knew about the projected rent, the projected traffic and her financial situation, the numbers wouldn't work," said Steve Doyal, corporate media relations manager at Hallmark. "Our decision was based purely on a financial analysis of that location."

Well, what about the location? "There are a variety of factors, rent being only one of them," Doyal said. Taking all of those factors into consideration, he went on, the likelihood is that "we would lose a little money, and perhaps a lot of money."

There's also the possibility that Hallmark could make a little money and perhaps a lot of money at the location chosen by Anderson. What Doyal described as "purely a business decision" is puzzling.

Anderson's old store, which was demolished to make way for a new building, was profitable. With the redevelopment of downtown, customer traffic should increase substantially rather than declining as Hallmark believes. The projected increase in office workers downtown virtually assures additional retail market support in that area.

Indeed, the site in question is in the heart of downtown Washington's retail core, where at least 40 major commercial projects either have been recently built or are under construction.

This is no run-down neighborhood commercial center we're talking about. This is the heart of the District's downtown redevelopment area. The May Co. felt confident enough about sales potential in the area to build the flagship store of its Hecht department store chain across the street from the site chosen by Anderson.

The flagship store of Washington's oldest department store chain, Woodward & Lothrop, is in the same area. The Shops at National Place, one block south, continues to be a popular downtown attraction. Major law firms, national corporations and trade and professional associations are opening offices in that part of the city.

Still Hallmark doesn't like the odds. Rent for retail space in the new building owned by the Oliver T. Carr Co. could be a problem, Hallmark officials believe. But that's only one factor, according to Doyal. It shouldn't be.

While it's true that retail rental rates in the building range between $50 and $60 a square foot, Anderson qualifies for a minority business rent subsidy over the first five years of the lease with Carr.

Moreover Carr company officials have already expressed confidence in Anderson's ability to make the deal work.

"The financial dynamics of the location has to take into consideration the financial dynamics of the operator," Doyal explained, implying Anderson may be having financial problems.

"I did my projections, a five-year projection and sent them to Hallmark," Anderson said, adding that the company declined to accept her plan.

Anderson acknowledged that she has a temporary cash-flow problem as a result of the demolition of the old store.

She has had to absorb the loss from that outlet in two other stores she owns. "I asked {Hallmark} to let me pay my balance in equal installments over a few months," Anderson said.

Hallmark refused.

"We have proposed that part of her debt be forgiven. My understanding is that if she agrees to that, her locations would no longer feature our products," Doyal said. Anderson hasn't accepted those terms.

Under the circumstances, Hallmark's decisions seem rather harsh.

After 21 years of apparently being satisfied with Anderson's performance as an independent retailer -- several letters of commendation attest to that -- Hallmark now wants to pull its products from the shelves of her three stores because she is experiencing a temporary cash-flow problem.

It may have been purely a business decision by Hallmark but its implementation is a public relations blunder, not to mention a severe blow to a small business owner.

Even so, Anderson's allegiance to the company remains surprisingly strong.

"The bottom line is I would like to resume my relationship with Hallmark," she said. "I just don't know under what circumstances."

It is especially ironic that in this season when we speak of good will toward men, Hallmark is only able to print it in its greeting cards.

Anderson shows she has the capacity to express it from the heart.