Popular Shadyside novelty shop continues to sell puzzles, cards, and gifts through pandemic | Community Profile | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Popular Shadyside novelty shop continues to sell puzzles, cards, and gifts through pandemic

click to enlarge A 1000-piece Pittsburgh skyline puzzle for sale at Kards Unlimited - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
A 1000-piece Pittsburgh skyline puzzle for sale at Kards Unlimited
It’s not unusual, even in “normal times,” to have to fight for a spot to look at the merchandise at Kards Unlimited in Shadyside. The novelty store, with an expansive selection of unique greeting cards, books, and toys, has long been one of the go-to spots for Pittsburghers in need of a gift or a pick-me-up. (In last year’s Pittsburgh City Paper Best of Pittsburgh readers’ poll, the shop came in second place for both Best Card Store and Best Place to Buy Yourself Happiness.) The narrow aisles, full of fun things to look at in nearly every direction, have been empty of customers during the last month because of the pandemic, but the shop has still been bustling behind-the-scenes, continuing to sell items through its Facebook page (don’t miss “Pandemic Book Bingo”) and new online store.

click to enlarge Kards Unlimited employee Zoya Domashnev poses next to a card available in the shop - PHOTO: KARDS UNLIMITED EMPLOYEE INDIGO BALOCH
Photo: Kards Unlimited employee Indigo Baloch
Kards Unlimited employee Zoya Domashnev poses next to a card available in the shop
For Amanda Blair, who has been working at the Shadyside shop for nearly 14 years, it’s been especially rewarding to see continued support from the community. That’s because she’s next in line to purchase the shop after current owner Kristen Kershner plans to turn over the keys early next year. It’s been a family business since the store first opened in 1968; Kershner took over from her mom and dad, who took over from her grandmother. But Blair says of the shop’s staff that “even if you aren’t there long, you become family pretty quickly.”

If all goes according to plan, Kards Unlimited hopes to follow Gov. Wolf’s guidelines and reopen the physical store on May 10 with safety measures in place (required masks, one-way aisles, and spots marked on floor for shopping with distance) and plans to begin offering free local delivery. In the meantime, they’ll continue to sell items curbside (“distant high fives and thumbs up are shared with no contact pickup”) and provide shipping for out-of-towners.


CP caught up with Blair as she was working on updating the shop’s new online store with its vast supply of cards, books, and much-sought-after puzzles.

click to enlarge Kards Unlimited owner-to-be Amanda Blair in the Shadyside store - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Kards Unlimited owner-to-be Amanda Blair in the Shadyside store
How has the pandemic affected Kards Unlimited?
The pandemic has affected us as I'm sure it has affected many other non-essential small businesses who had to close their doors to the public. We've had many sleepless nights and an incredible amount of anxiety, not only for the future of the shop but for our staff. We very quickly turned our attention to an online platform and painstakingly learned (still learning) how to build a functional website. I have literally been building day and night for weeks, stopping only to eat and sleep. ... Our manager Adam Marthens has been going in by himself a couple days a week to get orders together for no-contact pickup and shipping, and Kristen has been busy replying to customers who reach out to us on social media, email, or who call and leave a message. ... We have made so many new best friends while chatting with customers, it is the silver lining of all this.

Who is your typical customer?
Our typical customer is kind, discerning, irreverent, concerned about the state of the world, and in need of a good laugh. We tend to share a similar sensibility of wonder; we are like Peter Pan's Lost Boys or King Moonracer's Misfit Toys, and our customers are visitors to Neverland. Even the most seemingly grumpy customer will light up when they are welcomed into the ongoing conversation that happens amongst the staff: Which Potter house is best? (Hufflepuff) Why is Firefly better than Star Trek or Star Wars? Was the movie as good as the book? (No) How did you feel about the end of Game of Thrones? (Badly) Is Hopper alive? How do we feel about the new Margaret Atwood?

A senior gentleman recently came in with a NASA hat on and I said, "Nice hat!" and 20 minutes later, I was taking a selfie with this man who worked for NASA during Apollo I. A woman buying an Oliver Sacks book told me about having dinner with him before he died. A precocious pre-teen boy will tell me what he is reading and how he really likes the strong female characters and I will feel hopeful about the future.


What's the most popular item people are purchasing right now?
Our most popular item right now is puzzles, and lucky for us, we got a big order of them in at the beginning of all this. We have puzzles ranging from 300 pieces up to our 3000 piece Star Trek, Harry Potter, and Where's Waldo puzzles, but the majority of them are 1000-piece art images. 
click to enlarge Some of the merchandise currently available for sale at Kards Unlimited
Some of the merchandise currently available for sale at Kards Unlimited
Do you think it's possible to replicate the fun experience of perusing your huge variety of greeting cards while online shopping during the pandemic?
While we work on getting more cards up on the website, what we are doing to help customers shop for birthdays or anniversaries or just to make you laugh cards, is sending pictures via text or email, whatever the customer prefers. We help you narrow down what you want: Funny or serious? Sweet and sappy or irreverent? You want to be sincere, but make them laugh? Got it, brb. You basically get the time and attention of a personal shopper, which is our favorite thing to do, so it's a win-win.

How can people best help ensure the future success of Kards Unlimited during this time?
After that very first call I received when this all started asking, "How can I support the shop?", I cried. To know people were thinking of us and of other small businesses reminded me why this city is so great. The gratitude I felt and still feel every time someone sends us a message, email, or phone call is overwhelming. Please keep calling, keep messaging, let us know you're there, and we cannot wait to see you again.

Kards Unlimited: 5522 Walnut St., Shadyside. kardsunlimited.com

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