By Coastal Breeze News Staff
Keep in touch! How often do we include these words in our good-byes to family and friends as they take leave of our beautiful island? Many of us have said it dozens and dozens of times and will again. Two men and a beautiful redhead named Lucy make it easy for Marco Islanders to act on our impulse to stay connected, to keep in touch with the people whom we care about.
Mike Held and his business partner, Jiri Mikulinec, opened Keep in Touch in 2008 and just entered their fourth year in business. The shop is located at 135 South Barfield Drive in the Shops of Marco. The beautiful redhead is Lucy, Mike’s devoted dog who is Manager on Duty when she is in the shop.
Mike visited the Collier County Domestic Animal Services in 2003 and described his first encounter with Lucy. “I found Lucy in a cage. We eyed each other and there was an instant bonding. Actually, Lucy chose me and pet owners know what I am speaking about. When this connection happens you know it. YOU have been selected not the other way around!”
Once, a badly abused, fearful dog, a day away from the end of her sad life, Lucy is secure, confident and inquisitive. She likes to sit on the counter where she can observe her customers and receive their fond greetings. According to Mike, “people who know Lucy from the beginning when I adopted her, are amazed at her transformation to a very self assured, friendly, loving dog. Lucy has made her position in the store on her own and works every day like the rest of us. She is our official greeter/manager.”
Mike explained how he first came to Marco Island when he was a teenager. “My aunt and uncle introduced me to Marco Island in the 70’s. I visited them often and loved the beach and unspoiled nature of the area. Marco has changed over the years, grown up and out but it still retains its small town atmosphere, great beaches and, hopefully, we are all working to slow the intrusion into our beautiful natural surroundings.
“After serving in the military and working in the corporate world of suits and ties, I was ready for a change. I wanted creative control over my work environment and had the entrepreneurial bug to start my own business. I found the same traits and work ethic which motivated me in Jiri Mikulinec, whom I met when he was working for the contract post office located in the former Hallmark store at Shops of Marco. When Hallmark closed, I ran into Jiri again and we lamented that the little post office was a loss to the east side of the island.”
The idea for a gift and card shop was born from their collaboration and the two men approached the United States Postal Service with their proposal to establish a postal service unit within the shop. The proposal was well received and the two friends opened Keep in Touch in March, 2008 including a contracted U. S. Postal Unit.’
“A few months after opening our store, the economy imploded. But we hung on and with the support of the community we survived when, unfortunately, so many other stores did not. It has been a hard road these last few years but if you can survive opening in a recession, I think that is an achievement in its own right. Honestly, I did not realize how many people would come to rely on us and how many friends we would make from the customers we have served. It’s been fun and more than made up for the difficult times.”
The store employs an experienced retailer, Karin Hatcher as “head buyer.” Mike credits Karin with insight and taste in choosing the array of gifts available at Keep in Touch. Karin worked for the Hallmark store for many years and her skills at product placement in the retail side of the shop are visible to all shoppers.
Mike commented that he and Jiri are pleased to have Betty Kimble’s card designs available in the shop. Betty, who offered her handmade cards on the art show circuit, now is available on certain days of the week to meet with clients who want to discuss a custom design. A wide choice of her lovely cards is available in the shop every day.
Destin Welter is the latest addition to the Keep in Touch team. Destin is learning the many requirements of manning the post office unit and has great tutors in Mike and Jiri.
Keep in Touch will be adding new products and services to its current lines. Shoppers will find a range of items from whimsical gifts to very useful ID protective wallets and purses which can prevent theft of personal identification and credit card information. The postal unit carries an assortment of shipping supplies, padded envelopes, boxes in many sizes, “peanuts” and other recommended padding materials. The staff can assist you with packages up to 108” L & W combined and up to 70 pounds. The shop has available the materials you require for most shipping needs and will assist you with packing your precious belongings.
The shop offers a color copier and two computer terminals which may be rented for personal use, such as uploading and printing boarding passes. They offer a bonded notary service and multi-lingual staff in German, Italian and Spanish.
Mike proudly notes that “Keep in Touch is unique for several reasons. Lucy, our ‘Manager on Duty’, is so proud to sit at her post and observe that all goes smoothly at the post office desk. Nearly every customer has a comment to make to her and she receives dozens of friendly greetings and pats every day. We have an eclectic selection of tasteful and useful gifts. Our greeting cards are attractive, and well priced, including Betty’s custom designs. We play restful music designed to relieve stress, especially in the post office area. However, our real secret is our staff’s dedication to treat customers with respect and patience.”
Keep in Touch invites our readers to stop in to the shop and offer suggestions about products and gifts you would like to see in the coming season or how the staff can better assist you with your shipping and mailing needs. Current store hours are: Mon.-Fri. 9:00 AM-5:00PM., Sat. 9:00 AM.-3:00 PM., Closed Sundays.