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Greeting Cards Are Addictive For Some Folks

April 14, 1995

It was always tough for Jean Farmer to find the perfect cards for her neighbor, Sandy.

But she managed: For the past 14 years, Sandy, the white poodle down the street, has gotten annual birthday cards, Christmas cards, Easter cards, Halloween cards and Thanksgiving cards.

Mrs. Farmer, a 66-year-old homemaker from Garland, Texas, is one of an unusual breed: people who just can’t stop themselves from sending cards. She figures she sends about 2,500 cards a year, to friends, friends of friends, pets of friends, virtual strangers and major corporations. That’s an average of seven cards a day _ a $15,000-a-year habit, including postage.

``Oh lord, I just send oodles of cards,″ says Mrs. Farmer, bouffant hairdo bouncing. ``If I couldn’t have all these friends, I’d rather be six feet under.″

There are more obsessive card givers than you might think, and this week a lot of them will be bingeing: Easter, experts say, is the fourth biggest card-giving holiday of the year, after Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Mrs. Farmer is sending out 250 Easter cards. Thelma Shields from Irving, Texas, has a long Easter list, too, although it will be just a fraction of the 1,500 cards she sends annually.

And there is Janet Winemiller, a hardware store manager in Barberton, Ohio, who has about a dozen people on her Easter list. In addition to the 200 or so Christmas cards she gives out, she also sends about 100 cards annually to her husband. During a recent seven-day trip she took to Arizona, she left a card under his pillow, one in his car, mailed another before leaving and sent two more from the road. ``My family thinks I’m crazy,″ says Mrs. Winemiller.

Hallmark Cards Inc. first gained insight into hard-core card givers when it launched a frequent buyers’ program called Gold Crown last year. In less than nine months, more than five million people joined. The Kansas City, Mo., card giant has found that about 1.7 million of them fall into the category Hallmark considers heavy users: buyers of more than 36 a year, excluding Christmas. Most are women.

Hallmark sends its stores lists of the buyers so retailers can target them for promotions. To some critics, that’s like pushing drugs to addicts, and, indeed, Hallmark and its big card competitors, American Greetings Corp. and Gibson Greetings Inc., offer cards for an ever-multiplying number of special occasions _ Boss’s Day, Secretary’s Day, Nurse’s Day. But there’s nothing wrong with that, says Hallmark spokeswoman Rachel Bolton: ``People won’t buy cards they don’t want.″

So what gives with these people? R. Chris Martin, a psychology professor at University of Missouri at Kansas City, reasons that these buyers don’t suffer from a true compulsive disorder because they don’t hurt anybody. Instead, they exhibit ``an eccentric display,″ he says.

``If you send a lot of cards, you might have a need to be thought of,″ Mr. Martin says. He adds that card giving can also yield a more tangible reward: ``You might just get one back.″

Gilda Carle, a Yonkers, N.Y., psychotherapist has her own theory. She believes working women may send cards because they have less time to socialize. ``With a greeting card, you have the opportunity to reach out and touch someone and the touch remains permanent,″ she says. She should know. She sends 500 cards a year herself.

Whatever the motivation, the die-hard card giver attacks the task with purpose. Beverly Fogliani marches into the Ferrel’s Hallmark shop in Independence, Mo., picking up speed as she approaches the Easter section. ``A lot of times a card will say something you can’t say or won’t say,″ she remarks, snapping up eight to cover part of the family. She finds slim pickings for her infant grandson, frowning at a lone, pinkish-colored grandson card.

Since Mrs. Fogliani is the store’s biggest customer, at 100 non-Christmas cards a year, a clerk promises to stock more next year. ``One time, she didn’t have a card for a bridesmaid, and I ran it (out) to her,″ says manager Lana DeLuca.

In walks Mary Jane Porter, toting a calendar scrawled with seven birthday reminders for March and a color-coded shopping list of names for 30 Easter cards and 10 Mother’s Day cards. Black denotes Easter; green is Mother’s Day.

Mrs. Porter stocks up on some cards for emergencies. ``It sounds kind of gruesome, but I always keep a sympathy card on hand,″ says the 54-year-old, who works in a bakery that specializes in biscuits and cakes for dogs.

Some of the fanatics admit they’ve gone a bit overboard. Babette Martiny showers herself with 200 cards a year. She gives out another 100. ``I’m trying to cut down,″ says the Kansas City, Kan., homemaker. ``I’ve got hundreds stored in airtight Baggies.″

Mrs. Farmer, however, shows no signs of slowing down. She can afford her habit, which began at age 20 and has grown with time. She sends cards to hairdressers and mailmen. She sends cards to workers at Ann’s Hallmark shop in Dallas, where she commutes 30 miles round trip every Saturday morning. She recently sent a card to Hallmark itself, marking its 50th anniversary. A day after an interview, she sent this reporter a ``Thank You″ card.

She isn’t sending any more cards to Sandy the poodle, however. Old age claimed him a few weeks ago, prompting this final card to his bereaved owners: ``May it help you to know that others understand how much a pet can be loved.″

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