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Posted on Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 6:01 a.m.

Ann Arbor's Crown House of Gifts marks 50th anniversary - and it's stlll expanding via Ideation spinoff

By Janet Miller


Tom Ungrodt now owns the Ann Arbor-based companies founded by his late father, Paul 'Skip' Ungrodt. Crown House of Gifts, now located in Traver Village on Plymouth Road, celebrates is 50th anniversary this weekend.

Janet Miller | For

The year was 1960 and Paul “Skip” Ungrodt had a novel idea: Gifts and greeting cards naturally complement one another. Why not sell them under one roof?

What seems obvious today was a light bulb moment at the time. Ungrodt opened a snug, 1,000-square-foot gift and greeting card storefront in Adrian, selling $38,000 in volume that first year. About 90 percent of business in those early years was in Hallmark cards.

Today, Crown House of Gifts and its spinoff, Ideation, the nation’s first and largest gift catalog for independent gift retailers, are marking the Ann Arbor-based company’s 50th anniversary with special events that end today at Crown House of Gifts in the Traver Village Shopping Center.

Ungrodt become one of the first independent store owners in the state to sell Hallmark cards. The Crown House name was inspired by the Hallmark crown logo.

Skip Ungrodt is gone - he died seven years ago - but his son, Tom Ungrodt, bought the family business from his father’s estate.

Ungrodt paid his dues: He has worked for the company since 1978, watching it become a national company with a reach from coast to coast, but still maintaining three Crown House of Gifts storefronts.

Despite all of the changes over the five decades, the business still operates on the same premise, Ungrodt said.

“We’re all about having the hot items at the right time. We’re a store of emotion.” 

There have been shifts brought on by the new technologies. "Young people don’t buy cards anymore and we’ve had to respond,” Ungrodt said. 

His stores have shifted their emphasis from cards to gifts and clothing. Today, only 35 percent of sales come from greeting cards, Ungrodt said.

Crown House has seen other changes over the years: Five years after opening his first store, Ungrodt and two other independent gift store owners who also sold Hallmark came together to discuss ways they could work together to plan, purchase and promote their products. The partners began publishing a gift catalog under the Ideation name.

Tom Ungrodt’s mother found the word, which means idea creation, in a crossword puzzle. Ungrodt eventually bought his partners out.

The catalogs carried the same products, but the cover was personalized and imprinted with each store name. The first catalog, small and printed in black and white, covered six stores. Today, some 400 stores in 40 states use the catalog. Ideation prints six different fall catalogs and three different spring issues. The company’s fall print run was 3.5 million pieces, Ungrodt said.

In the mid-1960s, an Ann Arbor store was opened on State Street. The 1970s and 1980s saw aggressive expansion.

 “It was maybe a little too aggressive,” Ungrodt said. “We bit off more than we could chew, and we struggled.” The company even expanded to Somerset Mall in Troy when it first opened.

The dust from those days has settled. Today, Ungrodt owns two other stores in addition to Ann Arbor, Crown and Carriage in Jackson and Dayspring Gifts in Chelsea,  along with Ideation.

The company is looking to grow in different places: For the first time, Ideation this fall published a toy catalog for independent toy storeowners. They have close to 25 stores on board, and are pitching the concept to 500 to 600 independent toy stores with a mailing later this month.

 “We’re using the Ideation model,” Ungrodt said. “It’s a good diversification.” He expects 100 stores will be using the catalog a year from now.

Quality toys, Ungrodt said, show potential growth and are more recession proof than many other product lines. Baby boomers are moving into grandparenthood, making them potential toy customers.



Thu, Oct 28, 2010 : 11:13 a.m.

How are prices? Probably wwwwwwaaaaaaayyyyyy HIGH.I'M speaking of the customer from out of town.What would the think?

John Tucker

Wed, Oct 27, 2010 : 9:34 a.m.

In addition to Paul Skip Ungrodts contributions to the gift industry, He contributed extensively to charitable organizations too numerous to list with both time and money. He was a founder of 2 museums, one in Washburn, WI, converting an 1890s brownstone bank building into a Museum and cultural center and the other the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Collection preserving the last Hudson Auto Dealership and featuring the history of the automobile industry in Washtenaw County. I had the pleasure of working for Tom and Skip at Ideation for 15 years. Their success gave me the courage to enter the world of business ownership. Working for Ideation and the Ungrodts was very rewarding and exciting, Skip was a true entrepreneur and visionary and Tom carries on that legacy of innovation.


Tue, Oct 26, 2010 : 3:36 p.m.

Chester Roberts Gift Shop opened on State Street in 1933 and carried Hallmark cards years before The Crown House opened. The owner, Chester Roberts, was a sales rep for Hallmark cards and traveled many states selling the cards while his store was getting off the ground to become extremely successful. Mr. Roberts won many awards from organizations in New York as well as the New York Gift and Art Buyer magazine for the outstanding designs he created in his store window. People came from all over to see the beautiful creative displays in the front window. We surely do miss those ol' State Street stores of yesterday.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 1:21 p.m.

Oh my Gosh! It does not seem that store as been in business that long. I got all my wedding items there: table wear, plates. table deooratiion, cake knife. Has it been that long ago? Yes 1977 and still married.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 12:30 p.m.

Great article. Crown House has been a fixture in Ann Arbor retail for years, albeit on a smaller scale now than the good old days. I grew up as part of the "card-buying generation" and used to go into the store on Liberty and State as a student all the time (I think it's now a sandwich place). Now days, it's hard to find any card stores since as the article says, younger people are buying fewer and fewer cards. Most have had to close or branch into other lines of merchandise. Still, I think there's a place for the traditional gift store, if they can identify and meet the demand of today's customers. Ideation is a great idea. As a former retailer, I can tell you that it's extremely expensive to have a full-color catalog designed and printed if you're just a one or two store operation. This company makes it possible.

Hans Masing

Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 7:43 a.m.

A correction to the article, if I may - The link to 'Dayspring' is incorrect. It should link to: