Iconic E&J Cards and Gifts in Ridgewood bids farewell after 51 years

E &J Cards and Gifts store is set to close on Feb. 29.
Photo by Anthony Medina

For over half a century, E&J Cards and Gifts has stood as a cornerstone of Ridgewood, located on Myrtle Ave, offering residents a diverse selection of gifts and novelty items, becoming a beloved staple in the community. Now, as February draws to a close, so does an era, with owners Alan and Valarie Wornian announcing their retirement and the store’s imminent closure.

Nestled at 56-22 Myrtle Ave., E&J Cards and Gifts evolved from its beginnings as the neighborhood’s sole Hallmark Gold Crown store, continuously adapting its inventory to meet the shifting desires of its patrons by incorporating lotto tickets and the latest trends among its offerings. This adaptability has marked its tenure on Myrtle Ave, culminating in its final day of operation that will be Feb. 29.

Husband and wife Alan and Valarie, through every challenge and triumph, have maintained a profound sense of accomplishment and pride in their contribution to Ridgewood’s community fabric. The legacy of E&J Cards and Gifts, intertwined with the Wornian family’s history in the area, will forever be a part of Myrtle Avenue’s story. As they step away from the business, the couple looks back on their journey with no regrets, leaving behind a legacy of community service and cherished memories.

“We did the best that we could in 51 years, which was really a nice feat for us,” Valarie says. 

A gumball pinball machine outside of E&J Cards and Gifts. Photo by Anthony Medina

E&J Cards and Gifts store first opened in December 1972 with its founders Edith and Jack, the parents of Alan Wornian. Jack, a successful businessman in his time, was the owner of Jack’s — an ice-cream parlor and soda fountain shop on the corner of 69th Place and Myrtle Avenue, Valarie recalls.

Valarie fondly remembers how Jack’s was the go-to place for locals to grab cigarettes and the daily newspaper, serving customers from the early hours of 6 a.m. to midnight. It was particularly bustling after movie showings, offering a welcoming stop for theater-goers in need of a late-night spot.

Transitioning from the demanding schedule of round-the-clock operations, the concept of a gift shop emerged as a more manageable endeavor for the founders. It was this shift that led to the establishment of this business, transforming it into a family affair. Valarie reminisces about her involvement in this new venture during her courtship with Alan, marking the beginning of their joint business and personal journey.

“When my husband and I were dating, we would have to sit outside with one of those counters and count how many people were passing to see if it was viable,” Valarie says. “My father in law was very smart that way.”

Alan and Valarie assumed the helm of the store following the passing of Alan’s father, Jack, in 1975, after a battle against leukemia. Stepping into the roles of proprietors was more than just a matter of upholding the family legacy; it also symbolized the deepening bond between Alan and Valarie. Their commitment to each other was so intertwined with the store that the couple chose to elope on the very date that marked the official beginning of their stewardship over the business.

Inside of E&J Cards and Gifts store in October, when the Ridgewood Times featured the store in the anniversary edition of the paper. Photo by Anthony Medina

Since taking over the shop, the duo has brought a plethora of goods to the avenue that were both timely and in high demand. 

A few stand-out items Valarie recalls selling off the shelves in her time at E&J includes the white gloves made popular by Michael Jackson in his first television performance of “Billy Jean.” 

Another notable item sold in high demand were the black and white posters of Al Pacino’s Scarface (1983) after the movie’s success at the box office. 

One of the more memorable items sent flying off store shelves in E&J’s heyday, and a widely known item that generated bidding wars and mass pandemonium were the Beanie Babies — a popular line of stuffed animals creating a wide fan base of collectors until the fad’s sudden collapse close to the start of 2000. 

While the business brought significant fulfillment and created lasting memories for the owners, with Valarie noting that the profits from Beanie Babies sales even financed their second home, the decision to shutter the shop was influenced by an array of professional hurdles.

The dynamic business model of having a store like E&J, where popular items only last as long as they are trending and larger retailers like Dollar Tree put buying gifting necessities like bags at an all-time low, Valarie explains it’s a whole different work environment than it was 20 years ago. 

Stuffed animals and plushies on the shelves of E&J’s Cards and Gifts store. Photo by Anthony Medina

Valarie observes a shift in customer interaction that diverges from the past. With Alan handling the logistics, such as vendor negotiations and product ordering, and Valarie managing daily operations, the couple has experienced a decline in the social engagement that once characterized their business.

“When the day ended, it ended. Now, nobody does anything. There’s very few salesmen that come in,” Valarie says. “So when I’m finished with my day, I’m supposed to go home, go online, find these things, order them, and then when they come in, they come with no packing slip or invoice…go back online, and print it.” 

Having to work mostly online at the end of the day with very little human interaction is taxing for the owners. The benefits of coming into a store and being able to talk face-to-face is something that Valarie says simply can’t be duplicated by getting orders online or from Amazon and other websites.

“There’s nothing like going in and doing this kind of shopping. You know, my business is not really viable online. How could you see all the little tchotchkes that I have here?” Valarie says. 

In the wake of the couple’s professional challenges, there were some additional personal struggles that impacted the owner’s decision to close.

In 2018, Alan had a heart attack and needed to step back from the day-to-day operations of the business. Valarie says he was ready to retire then, but she wanted to keep the business alive for a few more years.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced E&J Cards and Gifts to pivot, adding water, masks, and hand sanitizers to their inventory as daily operations were disrupted. During this period, Alan and Valarie contemplated retirement but felt they weren’t quite ready to make that leap.

Valarie says a promise made to her mother before she died last year set in motion the end to E&J. 

Valarie Wornian during a visit from the Department of Small Business Services Commissioner, in October. Photo by Anthony Medina

As the final day for E&J approaches, Valarie says shoppers are still coming into the shop to buy all sorts of items. E&J first made its mark in Ridgewood as the neighborhood Hallmark Gold Crown store, selling a wide variety of gift cards, ornaments, keepsakes, and other sought-after Hallmark products. 

Passersby E&J Cards and Gifts know of the store’s immaculate front glass display with everything from balloons, games, figurines, and stuffed animals. For a time, a kiddie ride machine sat right outside of the shop, and a classic gumball pinball machine, seen by many.

Until its final day, E&J Cards and Gifts continues to offer a diverse selection of gifts, cards, souvenirs, plush toys, children’s items, and an extensive range of figurines, both small and large. Alan and Valarie are organizing a major sale on February 16, inviting customers to take advantage of deals while supplies last.

Valarie shares touching sentiments from loyal customers who’ve joked about winning the lottery through E&J’s tickets—they promise to purchase the store, ensuring Valarie always has a place within. She remains optimistic about such a dream scenario.