Millsboro’s Party Corner set to close after 30 years
When Diana Hundley came into Party Corner, owner Judy Henninger was on her way downstairs from the second-floor room stocked with educational materials, from posters to books to pencils and stickers.
“What can I do you for?” Henninger asked pleasantly, descending the steps with a youthfulness that belies her 79 years.
Hundley’s daughter, Rachael Justice of Ocean View, is expecting a baby girl who will be named Audrey Mae, and Hundley was looking for items for the shower. The conversation turned to Henninger’s decision to close after more than 30 years and, with her husband, Paul, sell the building at 208 Main Street in downtown Millsboro.
“What can we do to make you change your mind?” Hundley asked as another arriving customer overheard the conversation.
“You’re really closing?” she asked.
“Have to,” Henninger said, straightening a row of packaged balloons she inflates for customers’ parties.
The problem is, fewer and fewer customers are looking for personalized service, complete with a meeting with Henninger, who offers advice and etiquette tips. Instead, they are ordering wedding invitations online. Business from area teachers, a large part of Henninger’s business, dropped after the school system started requiring teachers to use a different, single supplier. And helium costs much more than it used to. Those are some of the reasons she’s going out of business, Henninger said.
“The whole idea has always been personal service. When customers came in and they were getting married, I had them sit down on the sofa over there. I had 50 books that I would show them. I worked with them. I said, ‘This is what we can do.’ What started my business — that personal service with wedding invitations — is dead. Since 1959, I have been selling wedding invitations. I wanted to give them the most for their money. I wanted to make money, but not,” she said, raising her fingers to indicate quotes, “make money.”
She and her husband, Paul — who runs the print shop in the back of the building and is a charter boat captain — bought the building 36 years ago, in the days of heavier downtown pedestrian traffic. Donut Connection was across the street. There was a small Montgomery Ward catalogue store, Food Rite grocery store, 5-and-10 with luncheonette, clothing store and two newspaper offices.
Henninger, a native of Philadelphia, started selling wedding invitations there, before moving to Millsboro.
“I came here, and people said, ‘Why don’t you carry plates and napkins?’ So I added that. Then I added birthday party and holiday items. That led me to educational supplies for teachers.
“Now, I want to get rid of this stuff. There’s 50 percent off everything,” she said.
“They have everything here,” a passing customer said.
“In the Wedding Room, we have glasses, wedding cake toppers. There’s kids’ birthday party stuff, holiday stuff upstairs. Table covers, vacation Bible school, Sunday school, NFL stuff — we have every team in the NFL, and oodles of Eagles, Ravens, Redskins, plus many other teams,” she said.
Those words revealed Henninger’s business side. But there’s a sentimental viewpoint, too.
“It’s breaking my heart, in a way, to have to close. Some of my people are very upset. I have met so many great people. I’m going to miss it. I’m of an age when I’m ready to retire, but what I’ll miss is going to be the people, the fun times in their lives — baby showers, wedding showers, birthdays,” she said.
“I guess the last day will be sad. I assume it will be. I don’t know. Right now, I have to get rid of this stuff,” she said.
There is no definite closing date. Henninger will keep the shop open Tuesday through Saturday, “until I sell to the walls.”
“I want to sell out. Even the shelves are for sale. I want to keep the carpet upstairs with ABC’s on it, and I want to keep Gwendolyn,” she said, smiling and explaining that Gwendolyn is the large stuffed-animal giraffe that stands at the front door of the 5,000-square-foot building, as if in greeting.
“What are you going to do with yourself when you close?” a customer asked.
“I’m going to find the back of my closets. I’m going to clean my house and find out what else lives there besides me,” she quipped.
“Everything is half-price. You can go Redskins-nuts,” she said, returning to her desk in the back, where there’s a poster on the door of a wild-haired monkey and the words, “I’ve gotta learn to relax.”
Getting up again, she headed toward a customer carrying a large box.
“That’s heavy for you, honey,” she said, leading him to the back door and warning him to be careful on the steps.
“I’m going to miss it,” she said. “So many great people. And all my sweet customers.”
By Susan Canfora