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December 19, 2012

'Real’ Christmas cards make a comeback, retailers say

San Francisco Chronicle — Maybe it’s the rosier economy. Maybe the novelty of dancing squirrel e-cards is wearing thin.

Or maybe, just maybe, people are feeling a little warmer toward their fellow humans these days.

In any case, traditional holiday cards appear to be on the upswing after years of decline, according to card makers and card shops.

Fireplace mantels are once again filling with twinkly Santas, snow-covered villages and family snapshots of faraway friends.

“There’s something about holding a card in your hands. It’s so much more personal,” said Chris Cook, a bank executive from Novato, Calif., who sends out about 150 holiday cards and letters each year. “It’s just a great way to connect and reconnect with people. E-cards ... I dunno.”

Palm Press, a greeting card company that sells holiday cards worldwide, has seen a 10 percent increase in holiday sales this year, said owner Liz Bordow.

Greetings and Avant Card, two chains of greeting card stores, also reported brisker holiday sales over previous years.

“When people go through the mail, it’s bills, junk, bills, junk and then, ’Oh my God, a wonderful Christmas card.’ I think people really like that,” Bordow said. “I think people are finding it’s a little more memorable than an e-card.”

The U.S. Postal Service, which recorded its busiest day of the year Monday, saw holiday-season mail volume up from last year, after steady drops annually since 2006, said post office spokesman James Wigdel.

Most of this year’s holiday increase is because of packages. Package volume is up 20 percent over last year’s holiday season, reflecting a stronger economy and senders’ increased trust in Internet shopping, he said.

Holiday cards have so far not seen the same jump, but senders have until Dec. 20 to get their missives to the post office so that they can be delivered by Christmas, he said.

Christmas cards might be on the upswing, but they’re nowhere near the popularity they saw in 2006, the peak year. Since then, holiday first-class mail has dropped at least 25 percent, Wigdel said.

The culprit, of course, is the Internet. E-cards are cheap and convenient, two very appealing qualities in a down economy. Sending a holiday card, by comparison, costs at least $1.50 or so, including the stamp.

But senders and receivers both lose something when an electronic message replaces a handwritten paper card, said Los Angeles artist Greg Clarke, who has been designing holiday cards for 20 years.

“Pixels will never replace the tactile experience of a beautifully printed card on elegant paper stock,” he said. “There’s more weight behind the sentiment. It’s a personal connection to people. It shows an investment of time, money, effort.”

Clarke still sends holiday cards, but doesn’t produce many anymore. Twenty years ago, holiday cards comprised about 5 percent of his income. Now they’re less than 1 percent, he said.

At a Greetings card shop in Oakland, Calif., manager Chad Sitzman said shoppers are finally buying holiday cards again after several slow years.

“For years we’ve been thinking, ’OK, this is the year things will pick up.’ But this year it really does seem to be turning around,” he said. “I think what it means is that, basically, people like getting something in the mail.”

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,


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