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Billings is the only major Montana city now without at least one Hallmark store, but company scouts have made two trips to town to nose around for another location.

That's according to Dave Simkins, who owns a Hallmark store in Great Falls and the two Leslie's Hallmark shops in Helena, where employees have been filling hundreds of ornament orders from Billings collectors since October.

In his early 20s, he started his Hallmark career working in Billings at the West Park Plaza store. After hearing that the last of what used to be four Billings Hallmark stores was closing, Simkins started negotiating with the owners.

"We just couldn't come to the right terms. When it came to the point where they were going to leave the mall, Rimrock Mall had already signed a lease with Dress Barn," he said.

In recent years, three Hallmark stores, at West Park Plaza, in the Heights and at Rimrock Mall have closed. In 2005, Bill and Mary Jackson decided to close the Hallmark Golden Crown Gifts store on North Broadway that they ran for three decades.

Simkins said he has been looking for another Billings location - Rimrock Mall would be his first choice if a spot opens up - to bring back the brand and hopes to have a store open by spring.

That's good news for the hundreds of avid fans of the Keepsake ornaments, who were forced to drive to Bozeman, Great Falls or Helena, order from another Montana Hallmark store, or pay top prices to get the ornaments online from third-party companies.

Sara Engen's mother-in-law got her hooked on the ornaments nine years ago when she began dating her future husband. After the death of her mother-in-law, Sara now continues the holiday tradition with her mom.

Each July, Hallmark unveils about 200 new Keepsakes and the company won't sell them online. So, Engen and her mom had to both take a day off work to hit the two stores in Bozeman.

"The clerks said they'd seen quite a few people from Billings come up," she said. "It was packed in the mall. It was insane how many people were in there."

Even though Engen admits she may have too many ornaments now that they fill a Rubbermaid container, she lamented the loss of the local stores.

"It's huge because we also get our cards there," she said. "It's a nice place to go because it's Hallmark."

 

By the numbers

It's been a year of sticker shock at the grocery store and gas pump.

At the close of 2011, regular gasoline cost $3.35 per gallon in Montana, at least 39 cents higher than last year, according to the American Automobile Association.

 

Scams du jour

This column just published instructions for getting off most junk mailing lists, but it bears repetition because so many readers are calling about being bombarded with these sales pitches.

Remember that ordering anything from Publisher's Clearing House or numerous similar organizations will land your name on a "sucker's list." One Gazette reader said he received a dozen mailings in two weeks.

Don't play this dangerous game. These companies are experts at getting you to part with your money by selling grossly marked-up junk or convincing people they will be millionaires by winning contests they haven't entered.

If someone is shipping you stuff you don't want, don't open it. Write "return to sender" on the package and send it back. Then write a letter asking the company to stop the mailings. State that any further merchandise they send will be considered a gift.

Send your letter "return receipt required" and keep copies of everything.

To register for the Do Not Mail list by letter, write to: Direct Marketing Association, Inc., P.O. Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512. You have to send a $1 fee by check or money order. Online registration also costs $1: www.dmachoice.org

Laugh lines

Erika Gable of Brooklyn, N.Y., had a simple description about her refusal to join Facebook, according to the New York Times.

"If I want to see my fifth cousin's second baby, I'll call them.

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