Rosann Costello turned the key to lock the doors of her Hallmark shop behind her, an act she has performed countless times in the nearly 40 years she has run the business. But today was different. In the morning, Costello would not be coming back.
It wasn’t easy to leave a store that bore her name. She has devoted much of her life to the business and it was a little bittersweet, even if she does look forward to spending more time with her 17 grandchildren.
“This has been a large part of me,” said Costello between ringing up a few customers on her last day, Nov. 15. “When you see that sign, that’s me and I want it to be a certain way.”
Without her, Madison Street might be just a tad less friendly, certainly a bit less familiar. It has lost one of its constants, a familiar and friendly face.
Costello, 62, sold the building and the business at 7443 Madison St. to Wayne Schauer, the owner of Schauer’s Hardware next door. Schauer said the Hallmark store will remain and one of his long-time employees, Susan Paschke, will manage it.
Costello’s run on Madison Street began decades ago when her husband Jack bought a news agency in Forest Park more than 40 years ago. Soon after, he purchased a greeting card shop at 7423 Madison St. At first, Jack ran the store with hired help.
Rosann married Jack, her high school sweetheart, when she was just 19 years old. She had two kids by the time she was 22 and seven by the age of 30. After the first two were born, Jack suggested that his wife visit the store.
“He said ‘why don’t you come in and learn the business so if something happens to me you can provide for all these children,'” Costello said.
Once her kids were in school Rosann was in the store every day. Most of the time she was the only person working in the store. Jack ran the news agency, but the store was Rosann’s.
She never missed a day. She worked six days a week, seven from Thanksgiving until Christmas. She opened the doors at 10 a.m. and didn’t leave until she locked the doors in the evening. She ate a packed lunch by the cash register. Every single day.
“No matter if I was sick I came in,” Costello said. “I never missed a day. I had no back up. I came no matter what. I’ve done most of this all by myself. I’ve done a solo run.”
She worked through some serious health problems, back pain, and a bum knee that needs replacing. Even on her last day she swallowed ibuprofen to block the discomfort.
She would work until 5:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve and then dash home to cook Christmas dinner for 32 people. The next day she would be back behind the cash register for one of the busiest days of the year.
When the Forest Park Mall opened in 1983 she moved the store there. After 13 years at the mall she moved back to Madison Street, buying what was then the shuttered Ben Franklin store that had sat vacant for two years.
At the mall she hired part-time help to work in the evenings, but on Madison Street she got by with the occasional help of Jane Bale, a second-grade teacher at St. Bernadine’s, who helped out during the busy times and in the summer.
“Rosann is an extremely intense person who really knows how to reach out in warm, wonderful ways to customers,” said Bale, who dropped by for a visit on the last day.
When Costello was a teenager her grand visions of life did not include four decades behind a cash register. She was outgoing and loved people and music. She wanted to be a singer.
But the job fit her like a glove, she said, and her personality helped her win loyal customers. She honored expired coupons and if a customer came up a few cents short she would make up the difference. She knew her customers, many by name, and knew what they wanted.
She helped customers carry packages to their cars. She was especially helpful to people with disabilities.
Diane Coleman is the executive director of the Progress Center, an advocacy group for the disabled located just a few doors away from Costello’s store. Coleman, who uses a wheelchair, said Costello made everyone feel welcome.
“If I went there to buy a card, I couldn’t open a door,” Coleman said. “She’d open the door. If I couldn’t reach a card she’d reach up and get it for me. The quality of the accommodation meant a lot to the people here.”
The Progress Center showed its appreciation by putting together a party to say goodbye to Costello. More than 50 people attended.
It was hard for Costello to leave. Jack, who sold the news agency a long while ago, is retiring from his job as maintenance manager at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and thinks it’s time for them to slow down and enjoy life a little more.
But Costello walked out of the store with no regrets.
“I’ve given it my all every day,” Costello said. “The good thing is I don’t have to look back and say I wish I had done this, I wish I had tried harder. There was no trying harder.”