It runs in the family

Published 10:40 am Monday, January 5, 2009

In a variation of the cliché “Like father, like son,” a daughter is following in her mother’s footsteps in Austin’s retail community.

Cindy Martin is taking over management of Bonnie’s Hallmark, 413 North Main Street.

“People always say you will know when it’s time to step aside and it is,” said Bonnie Mogen, store owner. “The best part of it is we (husband Bill and Bonnie) will still own the business and the building, but Cindy is taking over.”

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“I won’t be on the schedule to work, but there’s certainly no reason why I can’t come in and help when they might need help,” Mogen said.

Bonnie and Bill Mogen acquired the business 20 years ago from Larry Nemitz, a cousin of Bonnie’s.

Larry and Gary Nemitz, brothers, owned the legendary Nemitz’s pool hall, tobacco shop and newsstand next door to Bonnie’s Hallmark.

When Larry Nemitz owned the card and gift business, it was called the What Not Shop.

The business has been a Hallmark store since 1964, when Bonnie first started working there.

Last October 2008, Mogen was honored with the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

The business was named the Chamber’s Small Business of the Year in 1997.

Bonnie Mogen’s presence on North Main Street has guaranteed some form of sunshine everyday she was there.

She could be called “Mrs. Downtown Austin” any day of any year.

She spearheaded the Downtown Business Association’s revival with close friend Gretchen Ramlo.

She has zealously promoted the annual Christmas in the City celebration each December.

She even set up street barricades for the weekly Farmers Market events.

Flower baskets on street lights? Mogen championed them, too.

Downtown Crazy Day and rummage sale promotions couldn’t be accomplished without Mogen’s contributions.

If it’s good for Austin, Mogen embraces it wholeheartedly.

Find the person who heard her say a discouraging word about her hometown and discover a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Both are impossible.

“Bonnie would thank you every day for coming to work,” said Lisa Judd-Dunlop, who worked in the store as a teenager and later into adulthood. “That’s just the kind of person she is.”

“I came to work there just for the sheer joy of it,” she said.

Martin is the obvious choice to replace the buoyant businesswoman, Mogen.

She is a mirror image of her mother’s enthusiasm and positive attitude.

For instance, mention changes — i.e., the demise of long-time businesses such as Keenan’s Clothing, Leuthold’s, The Bootery and Fantle’s — and Martin finds a silver lining.

“We may have lost retail, but we’ve gained offices and professional businesses today,” Martin said, “which attract shoppers to retail stores, too.”

Martin will, no doubt, make her own presence felt in the downtown business community.

It all began at 15

She started working for her mother when she was 15 years old.

“Like my mother said, the customers were just like family and so were the employees of the store and other stores on North Main Street,” she said. “Customer service was always important to the store.”

Martin said her mother’s positivity was invaluable to establishing her own management and leadership role in the store.

“She has a very positive outlook on life,” Martin said.

Mogen knows no other attitude than “upbeat.” Just ask her.

“When you love your business and you love what you’re doing, it certainly makes it a lot easier to be enthusiastic,” Mogen said. “When you’ve been in business so long, your customers are like family and being enthusiastic with them is not unusual.”

“I’ve never had any trouble being enthusiastic,” she said. “I’m a positive person.”

Martin inherits her mother’s attitude and the store’s popular employees. Both should help her take charge.

“I’m very excited about being back to work at Bonnie’ Hallmark and that all the employees are staying,” she said, ‘because I couldn’t do what I’m doing without their support.”

Both mother and daughter praise the Hallmark Corporation. “I wouldn’t be on Main Street if it weren’t for Hallmark,” Mogen said. “They work with you with incentives and the Gold Crown program and direct mailings to customers.”

As the new year begins, there is over-whelming “gloom and doom” talk about the nation’s economy and particularly problems ahead in the retail sector.

The mother and daughter tandem said they are prepared to deal with those challenges in 2009 on Austin’s North Main Street.

“With Steve’s Pizza coming to North Main Street, that will be a plus,” Martin said. “And George’s Pizza will bring people downtown, too.”

“Having the new jail and justice center downtown and if the human services moves back downtown, all of that will make a difference, too,” Mogen said.

Fern Nemitz (Larry’s mother and Bonnie’s aunt) was there 44 years ago when Mogen first started working in retail on North Main Street.

Then Pete Judd came to work and Jeanne Anderson and Martin and Judd-Dunlop. Viva Tigner, too.

They’re a cadre of store clerks, who embodied customer service to the nth degree.

That’s what new store manager Martin is counting on to help keep Bonnie’s Hallmark a downtown retail anchor.

“One of the most important things my mother has passed on to me has been the value of customer service,” Martin said. “Bonnie’s Hallmark is a destination store, and we want people to keep coming back.

“I think they will do that if we continue to treat them with that respect and friendliness that my mom is known for,” Martin said.