The Rise and Fall of the Hallmark Kid

By age ten Ryan Lipner was managing his fatherís Hallmark store. So how did this would-be greeting card tycoon end up in jail before his 18th birthday?

Webb recalls: "We know that, from the time he was four years old, [Ryan has] been in his father's store -- all the time. He's a living store. He wouldn't talk about anything else."

The 16-year-old Lipner took a fancy to DiVietro's daughter, Amanda Gesce, in the fall of 1999, when she was 17 years old. Gesce remembers, "We met at a show one time, and he said, "Maybe we can go out sometime.' I said, "Maybe, whatever.' He stopped by one day with a limo." Another time he stopped by in a Hummer limo and took Gesce and some of her friends to dinner in South Beach. "I thought he was a weirdo, because that one night in the Hummerzine, he must have pulled out 100 hundred-dollar bills," she remembers. Why carry so much? she asked him. "I feel important with it," he replied.

Lipner began his sophomore year in 1999 at Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines but claims to have dropped out after three months. "From what I understand, he didn't have that many friends, because he'd walk around and brag about how much money he had," Gesce says. "He used to tell me stories about when he was in Flanagan, how other kids chased him because he had so much money, and he'd talk so much garbage to other people. He told me he didn't have that many friends because other people didn't like him."

"You open and lock up, 
ship and receive.
You hire and fire,
sweep and clean.
You're running a Hallmark
all before you're a teen."
"You open and lock up, ship and receive. You hire and fire, sweep and clean. You're running a Hallmark all before you're a teen."

"Everybody thought I was psycho," Lipner concurs but brags about dating many girls around that time -- though dating might not be the precise word for it. "I used to take girlfriends and spy on Hallmark stores," he says. "That was a date. I'd take them to dinner and then go Hallmark hunting. That's what I called it. Isn't that sick? One girl came up to me and said, "Hey, you're the cutest, nicest kid in school, but you're so fucking retarded.' Can you imagine a gorgeous girl doing that to you? But it was the truth." For a while Lipner hoped to find a future wife at one of the greeting card conventions he and his father attended, perhaps the daughter of another Hallmark store owner, but he never met a young miss who was as, well, intense as he was about the company.

Lipner's real passion wasn't for girls, however; that was reserved for expanding his father's business. In the fall of 1999, Larry Lipner hired Webb, a builder, to enlarge the Cooper City location into a high-end Hallmark Gold Crown store, funded through a loan by Hallmark. "I got a deposit, met with the Hallmark people, got plans to the building department, and started work," Webb recalls. "Then I found the [Cooper City] building department had serious problems with [Larry Lipner]. The relationship between them was hatred." Webb finessed his way through those problems as well as standing violations by the fire marshal. "Then there was no more money," he says. "I lost money on the deal."

Hallmark had backed out of the loan, according to a court affidavit filed in December 1999 by the corporation on behalf of Bruce Vorsanger, a Florida district sales manager for Hallmark. (Hallmark declined to comment about the Lipners for this story.) In reviewing the application, Vorsanger noticed that the loan amount seemed high in light of the level of sales at Ann's Hallmark. The company's credit department informed Larry Lipner of this fact. Shortly thereafter Ryan Lipner telephoned Vorsanger and identified himself as his father. Later in the conversation, he admitted his true identity. "I explained to Ryan that I had no business purpose in speaking with him, and that any dialogue concerning Hallmark matters would be conducted solely with his father," the affidavit records Vorsanger saying. "Ryan then stated, "Shut up and listen to me. I am going to kill you, and when you're dead I'll still be running the business.'"

Lipner doesn't deny the threat. "Hallmark backed out of the loan after we'd committed to the lease for an extra 3000 square feet next door, after I'd ordered $200,000 worth of product. That's when I went crazy." The teen has a more detailed and vivid recollection of his fulmination, as follows: "Sir, you have probably now destroyed my business. I'm going to kill you. I'm going to find you and fucking kill you. I'll bring your ass all the way up to the Hallmark headquarters, and I'm going to bury you there. And when I die, they'll bury me there too. So for until the end of eternity, you and I are going to Hell together. I'll drive you nuts and haunt you for the rest of eternity."

The exchange was the death knell for Ann's Hallmark: The company withdrew its support, leaving the store a half-remodeled mess.

Hallmark was founded in 1910 and is now the largest maker of greeting cards in America. Headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, the company also manufactures gift wrap, stationery, party goods, photo albums, calendars, ornaments, and collectibles. The firm spends more than $100 million a year promoting its products and for that reason goes to great lengths to protect its trademark name. It is especially cautious about handing out licenses for Gold Crown stores, its top-of-the-line outlets, so that no two stores are in close proximity.

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Ryan you are dillusional and you really need to get back on your meds. Oh BTW we're still waiting for you to pay back every penny that you owe to us.