- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Americans still care enough to send the very best.

Greeting card sales are rising in the United States, despite recent scares about anthrax-tainted mail. Analysts say the recent terrorist attacks could boost sales further during the holidays, a critical time for the $7 billion-plus-a-year greeting card industry.

"We are confident that greeting cards will continue to be an important way for people to express themselves and communicate with one another," said Rachel A. Bolton, a spokeswoman for industry giant Hallmark Cards Inc.

The company's research shows consumers "intend to celebrate the holidays with the traditions they hold dear, and exchanging cards is among those traditions," she said.

Hallmark's sales rose 5 percent after the September 11 attacks. Several smaller companies, such as Paramount Cards Inc. and Avanti Press Inc., say sales have risen as much as 15 percent since the tragedies.

Traffic is also up at Web sites that allow users to send electronic greeting cards, according to Jupiter Media Metrix. The research group's data show that traffic at the sites has been increasing steadily all year.

Sales of traditional cards could jump higher during the holidays because consumers who fear air travel may send the cards to friends and relatives they would otherwise visit in person, analysts say.

Also, Americans who have been laid off from their job may send cards, which generally cost between $1 and $4 apiece, if they cannot afford to send gifts.

Greeting cards generate $7.5 billion in sales annually, according to the Greeting Card Association trade group. Americans generally buy 7 billion cards a year, including roughly 2 billion cards for the Christmastime holidays, the association said.

Hallmark and its chief rival, American Greetings Corp., have introduced a line of patriotic-themed cards since September 11. Hallmark's line includes Christmas cards with patriotic themes, such as one that depicts a snowman gripping an American flag.

"The industry is very good at meeting the needs of the consumer, and people are feeling very patriotic these days," said E. Gray Glass III, an analyst for First Union Securities Inc.

Anthrax won't scare consumers away during the holidays, said Sheldon Grodsky, an analyst for the Grodsky Associates research group. All the cases of anthrax-tainted mail have been linked to letters destined for businesses or government offices, he said.

"You send greeting cards to friends and relatives. There won't be a problem if people put their return address on their envelopes, unless you're nervous about your niece or nephew trying to kill you," Mr. Grodsky said.

Since the anthrax scares began, some businesses have said they will start using see-through envelopes for mailings so customers will have a better chance of knowing if a letter is tainted with anthrax spores before they open it. So far, the major greeting card companies have not joined the trend.

Hallmark has no plans to introduce transparent envelopes, Miss Bolton said.

Greeting card companies could become one of several industries that have gotten an unexpected boost from the September 11 tragedies, analysts say. Florists, for example, reported an uptick in flower sales in the days after the attacks.

Videotape rentals and sales of canned soup are also up, because consumers are more likely to stay at home these days, according to analysts.

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