Longtime Norman store owner plans fresh start in new location
Aubrie Hill, The Oklahoma Daily
By the time Norman resident Nancy Russell was 13 years old, she had jewelry in 13 stores across the country. When she was about 15 and a half, she had finally raised enough money to buy a used Volkswagen bus.
She had one problem though — she was not old enough to drive her bus.
Her older brother began driving the bus, but everything that could go wrong with it did. Russell called it the “bus from hell.”
That bus gave out and she developed a new dream of owning her own store by the time she was 21.
One summer while traveling in Estes Park, Colo., a craft store approached her and asked if she wanted to work full time there. Russell was 17 at the time. She took summer school and night classes graduating a year early, and the day after she graduated she packed up and moved to Estes Park.
Once she moved to Estes Park, she felt lonely from time to time, and eventually ended up back in Oklahoma.
Russell turned 21 on Jan. 26, 1977, and five days later she signed a lease for a store on Campus Corner in Norman. Russell opened the Aquarius Gift Shop right above the former Town Tavern Restaurant.
“I was born under the Age of Aquarius and so was my store,” she said.
When times got tough upstairs, Russell was given the opportunity to help out the restaurant below by baking.
“Of course I could bake. I had taken seventh grade home-ec,” she said.
Then the opportunity came along for her to combine a bakery with a gift shop and opened Cookies-N-Cards at a small hole in the wall at 796 ½ Asp Ave.
“It was not a half-ass store, it was a half Asp store with a p,” she said.
Russell became a working machine trying to support herself. Her store was open as often as it could be, even on the holidays.
One cold New Year’s Eve, a young man about her age came into the shop looking for a gift. He was her only customer that day, and she felt the need to reward him for it by naming him “customer of the day.”
Her customer of the day was named Jim and nearly a month later on Valentine’s Day, the two were married, and her customer of the day has been for the past 27 years.
“I just knew she was the one,” Russell said.
Russell stayed at the Asp location for about three years until she moved down the street to 754 Asp Ave. and that’s where she remained for 24 years. Russell was not rich in any way other than friends and experiences, she said.
“The only dough I’m rolling in is cooking dough,” she said.
Walker Thomas met Russell when she first started out back in 1977 and he was a student himself and they just clicked. Years later, he opened his own barbershop next door to Cookies-N-Cards, and Russell became one of his customers. They have been business-neighbors and friends for nearly 35 years.
“She always wants to give the baker’s dozen,” he said. “She always wants to give more than what is required.”
On July 1, Russell was evicted from her location on Asp. It was a scary and unsure time, but she saw it as a blessing in disguise.
Russell is now in the process of opening another Cookies-N-Cards at a new location in Norman. It will be newer and better, she said.
James Russell said his wife is a workaholic.
She battled breast cancer 14 years ago and beat it. During her chemotherapy sessions, Russell continued to go to work.
She said she loves interacting with people, and her customers were one of her biggest support systems during that difficult time.
“I was never going to die from cancer, it was never in my script,” she said.
When Russell started out, she never thought baking was in the cards for her. It was initially all about jewelry. She hasn’t made jewelry in years and baking has taken over her life. She plans on keeping Cookies-N-Cards open for as long as she can.
WHAT’S NEXT: 12th St. Opening
Russell hopes to have the new store up and running before Thanksgiving, and she is planning a grand opening event.