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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

D.C.'s Card Bureau upbeat at NSS despite card industry downturn

The Card Bureau

At NSS from left, Card Bureau's Alyssa Stanzione and Janie Velencia, and Lockwood Paper's Brian Kress.

Washington, D.C.-based The Card Bureau, which is inspired by D.C. politics, pop culture, current events and common daily struggles that “speak to the times, provoke thoughtful discussion and make people laugh,” showed plenty of appropriate new product at last week’s National Stationery Show (NSS) at New York’s Javits Center.

Its new 2020 Candidates line featured card entries celebrating Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and there were new offerings in its notepad category, most notably an Ruth Bader Ginsburg pad packaged with a gavel pencil.

But owner Janie Velencia also brought a strong sense of optimism in a marketplace recently upended by the announcement last month that the major Papyrus stationery/greeting card wholesaler was closing all 254 of its U.S. and Canada stores, and that industry giant Hallmark Cards was eliminating hundreds of jobs and increasing its digital efforts to offset declining card sales.

“We’re not general or broad enough to make the Hallmark market, but the Internet and social media reaches an audience that does buy cards,” explained Velencia. “There’s been a slew of articles recently proclaiming the end of the greeting card industry, and pointing at Papyrus shutting down and Hallmark downsizing—and they claim that millennials and the new generation aren’t interested in sending greeting cards anymore. But I’m not sure that’s the complete picture or the truth: I think Papyrus is in a lot of shopping malls, and that their shutdown is an indication that shopping malls are extinct--as opposed to stationery being extinct.”

The closing of big stores like Papyrus doesn’t even indicate that the greeting card category is “struggling as a whole,” continued Velencia, “nor does it mean that small retailers are also on the brink of collapse.”

Hallmark, she added, “is a bit of a dinosaur in the greeting card industry, and less innovative than a lot of greeting card companies. So if you look to Hallmark and Papyrus and see greeting cards struggling, there’s actually growth in the industry: Look at the small indie companies cropping up and taking some of that market share.”

Velencia offered herself as “a good example.”

“Some cards I make, nobody else makes. It’s a bit of a niche, but the Internet and social media enable me to be more niche. We’re going through the same phase the beer industry went through with craft beers--or yogurt: Ten years ago there were five flavors, and now you go to the grocery store and there are 25, with all these different, weird flavors! But there’s a market for adding specific tastes and interests, and I’m a good example of being different and filling a niche gap that bigger companies are not able to fill. And I’m being successful at it—and it pays better than being a journalist!”

Velencia had in fact been a journalist prior to launching The Card Bureau, contributing to political outlets including Huffington Post and FiveThirtyEight.

“Twenty years ago I couldn’t quit my job and make a living doing this, because it was too tough to get product out to people,” she said. “So from my point of view, the card business is thriving for people like me.”

Visiting Card Bureau’s NSS booth, Brian Kess, manager of the Lockwood Paper cards/stationery store in Astoria, Queens, echoed Velencia’s sentiments.

“People care about stationery and greeting cards,” said Kress. “We’re seeing that instead of spending $2 for a card at CVS or Duane Reade, they’re willing to spend $5 for a well-designed work of art.”

And despite market shrinkage because of Papyrus and Hallmark, Kress sees what amounts to “almost a renaissance” in the greeting card industry.

“Greeting cards are alive and well!” enthused Velencia. Turning to a trade journalist browsing her booth, she invoked her own past work in concluding his story: “There’s your closer!”



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