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40 years of greetings

Beverly Gray in her shop
[Times photo: Thomas M. Goerthe]
Beverly Gray arranges a display of ornaments in her shop. Gray has owned Beverly’s Card & Gift Shop on Franklin Street since 1963. At 75, Gray still works five days a week and never takes a vacation.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 6, 2002

Beverly Gray can chart the ups and down of the economy - and popular culture - from her card shop on Franklin Street.

DOWNTOWN TAMPA -- In the old days, Beverly Gray sold greeting cards for celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.

Today she sells them for getting a new dog, passing a driver's license exam and for being in a wedding.

It's a reality Gray can't explain but gladly accepts. In her business, she knows every card counts.

Gray owns Beverly's Card & Gift Shop on Franklin Street, one of the original businesses that made up downtown's once vibrant retail center. Next year, it turns 40.

Over the years, her store has become a popular midday stop for countless office workers searching for the perfect card to express their every mood. Gray always greets with a smile.

"I love the lunch hour and all of the people I see," she says.

At 75, Gray still works five days a week and never takes a vacation. She jokes that she should have retired 10 years ago but never got the itch. Besides, she says, work beats sitting home eating bonbons.

"What would I do?" says Gray, whose hair matches her name. "I like to get up in the morning and come here and say 'Hi' to people and do a little work."

Gray opened the store in 1963 across the street from her current location in what's now the Italian Pavilion. A few years later she moved down the block. Then, in the mid 1980s, she bought 512 Franklin St., a three-story bank building dating to 1914.

On any given afternoon, Gray stocks shelves, helps at the cash register and, on occasion, shoos away shoppers seeking deep discounts on the latest collectibles.

Most don't know she's the boss.

She got into the business through Walt Touchton, who owned a chain of drugstores. She was working as a nurse at Tampa General Hospital but wanted flexible hours for raising her two children.

She and Touchton invested $1,500 apiece to open the Hallmark store. He insisted they name it after Beverly because he thought "a lady's name was more appropriate," she said.

Touchton pulled out shortly after, leaving Gray as sole owner. She remembers being too young to feel nervous. She was just determined to succeed.

She opened a second store next to the Publix on Dale Mabry Highway and Neptune Street, a few blocks from her home in Palma Ceia. For years it was the busier of the two. All of her friends stopped by.

"I knew everybody," said Gray, a Plant High School graduate. "I was spoiled."

She closed the shop several years ago when Publix built a new grocery and needed her space for parking. Customers tell her they still miss it.

At one point, Gray considered opening a store in a mall but never got around to it. Family and work kept her too busy and by the time things eased up she was ready to slow down.

Over the years, business has gradually declined, she said. Malls drove customers out of downtown, more stores started selling cards and e-mail replaced a lot of cards.

Then came 9/11 and the crippled economy.

Gray says people don't send cards like they did years ago, and when they do, they often pick them up at a drugstore. Walgreens is next door.

In part, she blames the price: Hallmark's oldest card sold for 5 cents when she first opened. Today, that card -- a "Thinking of You" note with purple pansies in a white cart -- costs 89 cents, and that's cheap compared with most.

Plenty of people see the value.

"I think an actual card sent through the mail is a lot more personal," says Kim Boone, a 15-year customer who goes to Beverly's once or twice a week.

Valentines Day continues to be Gray's busiest day of the year. Christmas, of course, marks the top-selling holiday, and Mother's Day comes in third.

She's already dreading a lackluster season, based on sales in the days after Thanksgiving. "It's sloooow," she whispers during Monday's lunch rush.

Loyal shoppers keep her spirits high. Especially those like lawyer Ron Cacciatore, who buys cards for every holiday and describes himself as "anti-Internet."

"Thank you. Come again," she says as he shells out $17 and some change for a stack of greetings.

He assures her that he will.

-- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or

Beverly Gray

  • AGE: 75
  • OCCUPATION: Owner, Beverly's Card & Gift Shop.
  • PAST JOBS: Jewelry saleswoman, registered nurse.
  • FAMILY: Two children, two grandchildren.
  • PETS: Pomeranian with bad breath, Tootie; black cat named Black Cat.
  • FAVORITE CARD: Shoebox.
  • FAVORITE CARTOONS: Pickles, Peanuts.
  • FAVORITE STORE ITEM: Anything with Maxine.
  • PASTTIME: Watching the Buccaneers and the Gators.
  • HOBBIES: Bridge.

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