Business restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic kept Pat Burnham from operating her Geneva greeting card and gift shop for much of the spring.
Loyal customers of The Paper Merchant also were shut out, of course, though it turns out many didn’t forget to write. Just witness the flow of cards and messages Burnham received at her home, thanking her and saying hello.
“It’s really nice to open your mailbox and find something there that’s not a bill,” Burnham says.
If readers haven’t yet found that feeling to be mutual while passing the time at home, chances are they will as the holiday season descends upon Kane County. In July, a study commissioned by online photo outlet Shutterfly expects “the number of people buying holiday cards this year is expected to increase 7%” from last year, according to the Chicago Tribune. With gatherings scaled back or postponed altogether, sending messages by mail remains a surefire, safe way for people to communicate warm wishes.
“Definitely that people aren’t traveling for the holidays or seeing people or going to parties or whatever, this is their way of connecting and letting people know that they’re thinking about them, that they care about them, letting them know what’s going on with them, as well,” says Mollie Green, owner of La Familia Green, a Chicago-based, eco-friendly greeting card company.
Consequently, the fourth-generation small business owner and St. Charles high school product senses there might be at least one positive to emerge from this turbulent year. Whereas birthday cards typically have been her top seller — followed by Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day — Green says the company already had sold “a good amount” of holiday cards by the beginning of November, putting it in position for one of its best holiday sales seasons since La Familia Green launched in 2005.
The Paper Merchant anticipates an influx of interest in its holiday inventory as well, if summer and fall trends were any indication. Burnham happily reports many customers were buying cards in multiples, prompting her to reorder certain selections several times over.
“People are stocking up, and other people that are used to having cards on hand were missing them, so when they came in, they just bought them by the handful in every category, so they were prepared in case we have to have another lockdown,” she says.
Burnham cherishes an additional measure of success that can’t be quantified on a balance sheet. Burnham’s daughter, Kate, who works for a global commercial real estate services firm by day and operates the store’s Instagram page in her spare time, also has accelerated her card-sending game, alongside her fellow millennials.
“Getting mail is fun,” Kate Burnham says. “I’ve sent more stuff to friends this year than ever. We’re all Zoomed out. No one wants to ‘Zoom happy hour’ anymore. Cards are more fun.”
Pat Burnham says most cards sold at small shops such as hers feature original artwork and brief messages on the front, with blank space inside. Cards from La Familia Green fall under that category, as Green says she found inspiration in artists who used greeting cards as a medium.
“It just felt like a way that I could get my work out to more people and have a bigger audience and make it more accessible, as well,” she says. “I felt like I always had a good sense of humor, too, so I was able to add that into it.”
Neither Pat Burnham nor Green feel anything beyond solidarity toward larger, more commercial card companies such as Hallmark. “There’s room for all of us,” Pat Burnham said.
This year more than others, to be sure. Just as long as you clear space in the mailbox.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the December issue of Kane County Magazine.
The Paper Merchant
328 S. Third St., Geneva
La Familia Green