When most of us watch a Hallmark greeting card commercial on television, we are reminded of the warmth of the yuletide. But when Linda Anderson sees those advertisements, her blood runs cold.
Hallmark doesn't want Anderson operating a shop that sells Hallmark cards at Metro Center in downtown Washington. The objection, as voiced from Hallmark headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.: It's a bad location.
Never mind that for the last seven years Anderson operated a profitable shop that sold Hallmark cards at 13th and G streets NW, directly across the street from Metro Center.
And never mind that she has three of the best-selling card shops on the East Coast -- Cards N' Things at the Shops at National Place and on the Pentagon Concourse and Celebrations at Vermont and K streets NW.
Obviously, Hallmark just doesn't seem to want Anderson to run a card shop in Metro Center. And because Hallmark furnishes its retailers with office supplies -- including card racks, counter tops, cash registers and carpet -- the company reserves the right to determine who will retail for it and where.
In this case, it is far from apparent what Hallmark's real reason is for wanting to discontinue a 21-year business relationship with Anderson. But, it is not unreasonable to wonder whether the company's problem with her locating a shop at Metro Center is one more mark on Hallmark's lengthening record of racial insensitivity and greed.
Earlier this year, black employees at Hallmark headquarters received letters from anonymous sources, written on Hallmark stationery, filled with racial slurs and derogatory comments about their work performance. The company investigated, but no culprits were found.
This is the same company that was exposed on the ABC show "20/20" last year for attempting to force an elderly couple out of their family greeting card business, the same company that Mothers Against Drunk Drivers forced to stop making graduation cards that linked commencement with the consumption of alcohol in 1988, the same company that a federal judge called a "copycat" that year for lifting its designs from a smaller card company.
Now the same "anything-
for-a-buck" attitude, combined with racial insensitivity, is on display in the District. For Hallmark, it's only a question of the bottom line.
"Our analysis deemed that it is not economically viable for her to sell our products at 13th and G streets," said Andrienne Lallo, the assistant corporate media director for Hallmark. "We are very careful to work out arrangements with our retailers that are successful for them, and we just don't think she can make a go of it."
Anderson, 44, is one of the few black women entrepreneurs in downtown Washington. Her fourth card shop was at 13th and G streets until last year, when the building that housed it was demolished. Anderson signed a lease agreement with the Oliver Carr Co. to move into Metro Center.
"We want her at Metro Center because we think her card shop can work there," said John Asadoorians, director of retail leasing for Oliver Carr. "We know the area better than Hallmark and we believe that Anderson should have the opportunity to be a part of the downtown revitalization."
In the wake of Anderson's complaints to the D.C. Council and Congress alleging that Hallmark's treatment was based on race as well as economics, Hallmark has ordered Anderson to stop selling all Hallmark products -- which make up about 90 percent of the inventory at her three stores.
This move reaffirms Hallmark's demise as the community- and family-oriented card company that it was under Joyce C. Hall, who died in 1982. A corporate bully now hides behind Hallmark's Norman Rockwell facade.
"If Anderson operated a franchise, I could understand the attempts to control her every move," said Ronald Jessamy, Anderson's lawyer. "But she is an independent dealer who has an outstanding 21-year track record with Hallmark. She is someone whom they should be celebrating, not trying to make fail."
Not only has Anderson consistently demonstrated astute business sense, but as something of the East Coast queen of greeting card dealers, she has done more than anybody to establish Hallmark's reputation among black customers.
For Hallmark to try to force her out of business is a slap in the face. But it is the image-conscious card company that deserves a black eye.