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Hallmark stores draw in suburban Milwaukee customers dedicated to iconic Keepsake ornaments

Mary Hanlon, store manager of the Fredrick's Hallmark shop at the Shoppes of Fox River in Waukesha, stands beside the display wall of this year's Hallmark Keepsake ornaments. She has worked at the store five years, three as manager, and said the interest in the ornament line runs high.

It's 90 degrees on a summer day — even hotter as you cross the blacktopped parking lot — outside the Fredrick's Hallmark store in Waukesha's busiest shopping center.

But for all intents and purposes, it's Christmas. Collectors, most of whom have been waiting two months for this early July day, descend on Hallmark's Keepsake ornament premiere weekend with, obviously, a cooler season in mind.

The south wall of the store in the Shoppes at Fox River center is fully adorned with a display of the catalog's ornaments, some of which will be gone by the time the first day of the weeklong event ends at closing time.

But that's hardly the end. Most of the Christmas ornaments remain in stock and on display in a decades-old tradition that technically stretches from mid-spring to Christmas Day — or the day after, if you consider the well-attended clearance sales.

It's a scene pretty much repeated throughout suburban Milwaukee, including the other regional Fredrick's Hallmark stores (in Brookfield, New Berlin, Oconomowoc and Pewaukee), Jane's Hallmark in Franklin and Shelley's Hallmark in Menomonee Falls.

"It's a big day; people look forward to this day for a long time," said Mary Hanlon, the Waukesha store manager now on her third go-round in the spring-to-winter Keepsake ornament routine. "I probably had 50 people lining up outside the door before we opened."

Hanging on a tradition

The franchised chain of Hallmark stores stumbled upon a tradition that grew from a modest, but logical, effort in

According to Hallmark's website, the ornament sales began with simple glass balls and yarn figurines intended for Christmas trees of families looking for more variety. But it didn't stop there.

Over the years, the ornaments moved away from strictly handcrafted and basic decorations and toward artist-rendered creations of characters and things associated with Christmas, and later familiar pop culture images not necessarily tied to the annual holiday season at all.

The licensed characters come from realms such as Disney, Star Trek, Star Wars and Warner Bros., to name a few of the most popular.

Hallmark says the growth of its ornament selection prompted fans "to search for the stories behind their favorite ornaments," prompting the company to create the Keepsake Ornament Club in Club membership includes exclusive ornaments and "sneak peeks" of new products.

"Today, artistic innovations and light, sound and motion bring a new kind of magic to our ornaments — the kind that creates moments of wonder you’ll want to relive year after year," the company says on its website.

Hallmark Keepsake ornaments include licensed lines and series, some long running. This sampling includes the Lionelville motion ornament from its Lionel trains license; the Enterprise E ornament and 40th anniversary original Enterprise display from the Star Trek series; the Millennium Falcon ornament from the Star Wars series; and the Blanche Devereaux and Rose Nylund from the Golden Girls series.

That's not an exaggeration, said Josh Umhoefer, district manager for Fredrick's Hallmark stores, whose grandfather, Larry Albrecht, acquired the Hartland pharmacy business named Fredrick's in the s and eventually branched out into Hallmark's greeting card and gift shop format.

Umhoefer said the longevity of some thematic series in the ornament line is a testament to the collectors, who keep hoping and coming back for more.

"There's one series that's over 40 years running," he said, referring to the Frosty Friends from the Keepsake's line early days. "And there are some that Hallmark has an ornament for every year, even though they don't call it a series. Like, they always have a Crayola ornament."

Hallmark and its stores don't want to say too much about its sales, or how important it is to a franchise that has struggled in recent years as its greeting card business has been supplanted by online options. But Umhoefer acknowledged the importance of the Keepsake ornaments.

"It's a big part of our business, Christmas as a whole," he said, noting that Hallmark has expanded the ornament line to an almost year-round product, with spring releases and even a "May the Fourth Be With You" Star Wars release in recent years.

Yes, he's personally smitten by the Hallmark ornament tradition, though he knows others are more so.

"I definitely have a Hallmark tree at home, but there are collectors who are very dedicated," Umhoefer said.

Clubbing with collectors

You don't have to tell Jean McDonald about Hallmark's long history with Keepsake Ornaments or the enthusiasm they generate.

The president of Fredricks of Hollymark, a Keepsake Ornament Club sponsored by the franchisee's Ruby Isle location in Brookfield, has unboxed prized pieces and decorated holiday trees and living spaces for 34 years, networking with 28 other collectors who share her passion.

McDonald also serves as secretary of Collecting Ornaments OnLine (COOL), a web-based club with a national membership base and, by extension, an even deeper set of enthusiasts. Not that she, herself, isn't in deep.

How many ornaments has she collected?

"I couldn't even tell you," McDonald admitted. "Thousands and thousands. I couldn't begin to say, and I don't want to know."

Jean McDonald once decorated this tree, thematically based on her cat ornaments using Hallmark's Keepsake products. She has decorated as many as 13 themed trees in one season at her home.

Certainly enough to fill 13 trees, her most to date for any one Christmas season. Each tree is thematically different, based on genres of ornament characters. It's enough to prompt her to begin the decorating process in early November with an eye to having it all done by Thanksgiving.

Recalling that her first Keepsake ornament in was a cat character — fitting enough for a cat lover — McDonald said collectors are drawn to the variety of what Hallmark produces every year and over time, matching people's interests with iconic licensed characters.

"They have something for everybody," she said. "They've got every conceivable subject that they cover. They've got serious and light-hearted ornaments, they've got a lot of religious ones, they've got Harry Potter ones — everything you could imagine."

Something captures her interest every year, and it starts with her search online each spring for information about what ornaments will be coming out. She then reviews the Dream Book, Hallmark's catalog for its Keepsake line, in April and then places her wishlist pre-order.

"When the premiere happens (in July), I'm the first one at the door when they open," McDonald said.

"I'm addicted," she added.

A summer Christmas party

Not surprisingly, Hallmark doesn't rely only on its summer premiere to market its exclusive line or ornaments to collectors.

Ornament debuts in the fall (this year from Oct. ) and a Trim the Tree event (Dec. ) in the midst of the Christmas season are part of the marketing effort.

But it's the ornament premiere week, this year held from July , that seems to carry the spirit of the season best in a season that's, well, a little on the warm side. Both the stores and their customers make the most of it.

At her Waukesha store, Hanlon said the event has been treated as something akin to a Christmas party, with cookies and refreshments served to welcome avid collectors. (The coronavirus pandemic interrupted that practice, but it will likely return, she said.)

"We all get pumped up," Hanlon said of her staff.

Customers fulfill a social element, much like a family gathering, on the first premiere day as well.

"Sometimes they actually see other people that they haven't seen in a while, and they start chit-chatting. "It's a big day. People come in every year because they are collectors."

Hallmark assists its retailers with displays showcasing the current ornament line each year. This is a section of the display.

Based on her information, Fredrick's Oshkosh and New Berlin stores generate even bigger gatherings and sales, but Waukesha's location adjacent to Target in the Shoppes at Fox River on Sunset Drive is probably the third busiest in that group, Hanlon said.

It's also a busy time at Jane's Hallmark in Franklin during each premiere event, where the most avid customers can be counted on for the early access day (this year on July 9) set aside for Keepsake Club members.

Meg Sadowski, the store's assistant manager, said that early shopping event quickly becomes highly social, with treats (wrapped candy this year instead of cupcakes or doughnuts, a COVID concession) and bottled water allowing people to chat and enjoy themselves as they shop and view new ornaments in person for the first time.

"That's usually our hard collectors, our club members, so that's all familiar faces that we see," Sadowski said. "It is (social). Some of them are just exclusively Keepsake customers, so they only come in that time of the year, and we'll see them again in October, so it's nice to see them again."

She understands their passion because she shares it, arguably as an avid collector from birth.

"My mom started collecting the year I was born, which was in '88, and I was coming in here and we would sit on Hallmark's floor, checking all of our ornaments," Sadowski recalled with a warm chuckle. "When I was able to have a job and able to buy some of my own that I wanted, I joined her on the premiere and preview days. Now she's got me hooked, and I do it for my son."

The closing of Hallmark stores elsewhere has only made the Christmas party of ornament collectors bigger for Shelley's Hallmark in Menomonee Falls. Shelley Kohl, the store's owner, has customers coming in from Cedarburg, Grafton, Hartford, Hubertus and even Brookfield, which has its own local store.

Collectors typically start lining up in front of the store at a.m. on the first premiere date, and they essentially use it as a chance to talk about their interests.

"The people that are outside are all talking about their ornaments; inside they're all talking about ornaments — I mean, they are all just diehard Hallmark Keepsake collectors," Kohl said. "They can't wait to see them and touch them."

Of course, there's good reason to touch many of the ornaments. Buttons on select ornaments activate lights, sounds and/or animation, including more deluxe tree toppers with even more interactive features.

"It's a great day because the customers are excited, and we're excited," Kohl said. "We've done all the prep work, and now we are like, yeah, let it happen! You hear a lot of stories."

With the one-day preview date, which for the past two years has been exclusively for club members to hunt for first-come, first-served exclusives, and the nonclub collectors filing in heavily during the weekend, Hallmark stores are expectedly busy.

Most of the time, all goes smoothly, with customers who pre-ordered using their Dream Book wish list merely having to identify themselves and pick up their orders. Hanlon said the customer lists serve as a production guideline for Hallmark, which then allocates the finished ornaments to each of its stores, usually guaranteeing fulfillment of those preorders.

After all, no one likes to be disappointed on Christmas Day, even if it comes in July.

Contact Jim Riccioli at () or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @jariccioli.

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Pete The Cat Ornament


  • Pete the Cat is rockin&#; his school shoes in this fun Keepsake Christmas ornament. The cool cat stands on open book pages for a fun gift for an avid reader, teacher or librarian. On ornament: Pete the Cat Too Cool for School by Kimberly and James Dean. Pete says, “Now I am COOL.” If you want to be cool, just be you!
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Cat in the Hat #1 Dr Seuss Hallmark Set of 2 Christmas Ornaments NEW

Cat in the Hat #1 Dr Seuss Hallmark Set of 2 Christmas Ornaments NEW

The Cat in the Hat ~ First in the Dr. Seuss Book Series. Set of two ornaments. Handcrafted and Dated Sculpted by Nello Williams. Just as "The Cat in the Hat" lead the way for a parade of popular Dr. Seuss Beginner Books, this set of two colorful ornaments is the first in a series that feature endearing characters from a variety of Dr. Seuss books.

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It&#;s kitty photo contest time! We are revealing our cat photo ornament, featuring Megan Konrath&#;s cat Oscar, and letting YOU share your kitties for consideration for the face paper of our ornament.

-Great photo quality
-Good lighting
-A great expression is always a plus!
-Generic background
-and no costumes, just your kitty in all their glory

Now, SHOW US THOSE CATS by posting a photo below in the comments! The contest will close 1/22/
Anthony Pece, profile picture
Arrow my cat when he was just a kitty. He will be 2 in March. Such a sweetie and love your ornaments hallmark btw.
May be an image of cat
Paula Gentry, profile picture
This is not an entry but I just wanted to say thank you Hallmark, for these wonderful ornaments that ensure our treasured furry family members are part of our family Christmas memories. I keep about 10 keepsake photo ornaments of our pets on our tree, and they always get a special wreath in our kitchen too!
May be an image of text that says &#;Yule Dog kitty Ciaus&#;
Mike Cook, profile picture
Sheba. Our smallest and most vocal kitty. Quite the cuddly kitty. Our Florida girl--she likes warm weather.
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Mary Williams, profile picture
This is Frost. My three legged rescue.
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Kayla Ferrie, profile picture
Hudson will be 11 in March. The sweetest,smartest and loyal cat. Purrrfect for your ornament!!
May be an image of cat and dog
Mart Ren Aliz, profile picture
This is my handsome grandcat Pedro, he is 6 years old. He is a cuddle bug and was a rescue. He is the best boy, doesn&#;t get into mischief, just likes to eat, chase his older sister, sleep, give nose bumps and leg rubs to his mom Becca.
May be an image of cat
Denise Guilfoyle, profile picture
This is Sadie, she was so excited for her first Christmas.
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Skye Haas, profile picture
This is Bunny, she was born on Easter and was abandoned and had to be hand raised
May be an image of cat and food
Judy Harless Cook, profile picture
Cleo was 2 when we adopted her and such a joy, she has the loudest purr and the quietest meow, she likes to sleep between my husband and I and will be 11 on March 1st.
May be a closeup of cat
Lola Crews, profile picture
This is my cat Butterscotch. Butterscotch just showed up at our house and we couldn&#;t take him to animal control and he was not chipped so he became our cat. He loves to play with his toys.
May be an image of cat and food
Lola Crews, profile picture
This is Girlie. She came to us with her sister. They were just little kittys and homeless. We took them in and we were so happy we did.
May be an image of cat and food
Shelly Parshall, profile picture
This is my youngest of 4, Hawkeye. We rescued him at 4 weeks old, he’s my first bottle fed baby, he is a lot more wired than his siblings, Thor, Loki, and Binx. He’s rotten but I wouldn’t want him any other way.
May be an image of cat
Lola Crews, profile picture
This is my cat Tiggr. He is no longer with us but he was such a great cat.
May be an image of cat and food
Carol Woeckel, profile picture
This is Impster - my diabetic cat who accepts her shots daily! Love her!!
May be an image of cat
Rachel Elise Hulsey, profile picture
I found these sweet stray kittens in my neighborhood when they were just a few weeks old in June They are just precious and growing into gorgeous cats! This photo is of Maeve! She loves hunting, treats, and cuddles! 😍
May be a closeup of cat
Lola Crews, profile picture
Midnight. She used to be my brothers cat and she was just so adorable that when he couldn&#;t have her anymore we took her and we are glad we did.
May be an image of cat and food
Melissa Schult, profile picture
This is my 5 month old baby Colin :)
May be an image of cat
Donna Thomas, profile picture
Callie is 6 months old. She has no fears and loves climbing and following me everywhere. She was born to a family of 5 siblings under a deck at a nearby school.I adopted her at 5 weeks old from her foster family that decided they couldn&#;t keep her and posted on Facebook looking for a new home. It was love at first sight.
May be an image of cat
Maria Brandt Gilles, profile picture
This is my handsome big boy, Quincy!🥰 He showed up on our doorstep cold and hungry two years ago, walked right in, and decided he was home!❤
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Mike Cook, profile picture
Calypso, she loves her American cheese - you can&#;t open it without sharing.
May be a closeup of cat
Jessica Vega, profile picture
This is Macy Gray. She’s a rescue. She has the most scratchiest meow which reminded me of the singer, which is where she got her name. She’s aggressively affectionate but would never hurt her humans.
May be an image of cat
Kelly Hammond, profile picture
This is our adventurous, friendly, and some what naughty, fur baby, Mac.
May be a closeup of cat
Amy Lee Hale, profile picture
This is Dobby. Her whole litter was given up for lost when her crazy mama ran away with them. Dobby is the only one that survived, venturing back home all alone to ask for food and pats. She’s a little floofy and very cuddly.
May be an image of cat
Kellie Marie Beltrame, profile picture
My amazing rescue Duncan!!
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This selection of Cat Christmas Ornaments is specially made for the total cat lover. If cats are your life and if your Christmas tree needs some serious purr, then have a look at this collection of cat Christmas ornaments.

The Hallmark Mischievous Kittens special editions, the Hello Kitty Christmas ornaments and Garfield to name just a few. It was a delight putting this list together.

I hope you love these cat Christmas ornaments as much as I do, have a purrfect Christmas and may your life be filled with kitty love!

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Hallmark guarantees great quality products which are sought after by collectors. Every year a new addition to the Mischievous Kittens collection is being released and they are much loved by cat lovers all over the world.

Garfield Christmas Ornament

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Like all special editions these ornaments will run out of stock and will never be released again, this makes them much loved collectors items.

I just want to hang this Garfield Christmas ornament in my tree and enjoy looking at it!

Hello Kitty Gingerbread House Hallmark Keepsake Christmas Ornament

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A cuter than cute Hello Kitty Christmas ornament by Hallmark. It shows the adorable kitty dressed to the nines looking out the window of a cute gingerbread house.

Makes a great gift for a Hello Kitty lover as well!

Calico Cat Christmas Ornament

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Christmas ornaments made the way they did it in the old days, all cat Christmas ornaments are mouth blown, hand painted and hand glittered.

Old school beauty from Christmases long time ago.

Three Little Kittens Christmas Ornament

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&#;Oh Christmas Tree&#; Cat Christmas Ornament

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&#;Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, your ornaments are HISTORY.&#;


This must sound familiar to most cat lovers: Cats climbing trees, broken ornaments and trees falling down.

Just look at it as part of the Christmas cheer!

This cat Christmas ornament put a big smile on my face. Got to love those mischievous little rascals!

Aristocats Christmas Ornament

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Duchess and O&#;Malley in love with intertwining tails: How sweet and adorable this is!

If you love Disney, if the Aristocats is one of your favorite Disney movies or if you&#;re simply totally smitten with cats, then this ornament needs to be hanging in your tree this Christmas.

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