Big businesses come and go, but Watermark remains: Tacoma gift and greeting card shop turns 40

After 40 years in business, Karen McGrath is throwing a party.

McGrath’s store, Watermark, began life as Phantasmagoria and was located at the Court C retail complex in downtown Tacoma. A move down the street followed, followed again by a move to 1107 A St. and later a trek a few doors down to its current location at 1115 A St.

The store is known mostly for its selection of greeting cards – from the sentimental to the risqué to the humorous variety that might make some people wonder how an idea like that ever occurred to anyone in the first place.

McGrath also sells gifts, home decor and women’s accessories.

A Stadium High School graduate, McGrath said owning a business in Tacoma has been akin to taking a fling on a carnival ride.

“It’s a constant slow roller coaster,” she said Thursday. “As soon as we get a wonderful uptick, then something happens.”

She has weathered the Great Recession and few recessions that were not so great. She has seen her customers from Russell Investments leave, to be replaced by a new family of buyers thanks to the presence of State Farm in downtown Tacoma. She has watched as the University of Washington Tacoma and a brace of new museums brought fresh customers in the door.

“With State Farm, it’s picking up,” she said.

Over the years, whatever the financial weathers, greeting cards have been the constant, she said. “People will often give a greeting card even when they can’t give a gift.”

Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day are the biggest occasions for greeting card sales, she said, and women’s accessories are returning.

“Jewelry, scarves, clothing – I think they’re more successful than they used to be.” She said.

Home décor is slipping, and items related to owls “are still here. We were supposed to have a fox trend, but it never hit Tacoma.”

The next big thing?


The 40th anniversary party on Sept. 23 begins at 6 p.m. and continues through 8 p.m. Along with cake and refreshments, customers can expect giveaway gifts donated by some of McGrath’s longtime vendors.