Trader Joe’s knows cards

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Your favorite small grocer may be just the place to find something that you didn’t know you needed: greeting cards. And even if you don’t think you need a personable and expressive note to send to friends or family, you might change your mind if you steer your red cart past the frozen veggies and domestic wines to the wall of mailable mementos.

After discovering the greeting card display at my local Trader Joe’s about five years ago, I became hooked. Every time I pick up their 50% Less Salt Dry Roasted & Salted Almonds (delicious!) or GT’s Gingerade Kombucha (lowest price anywhere!), I survey their continously-evolving selection of cards. I have never been disappointed.

Last week I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Trader Joe’s has broken with tradition and, for the first time, introduced a small number of seasonally-themed cards. The store on Walton Boulevard across from Oakland University currently stocks two aimed specifically at Halloween, and one that could be used for All Hallows’ Eve or a Dia de los Muertos (Oct. 31 – Nov. 2) celebration. I bought all three.

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Although greeting cards can be found at Target, Meijer, Walmart, and corner drug stores in addition to Hallmark, what sets Trader Joe’s apart from the competition is the price. All of their cards are only $0.99. That’s right — they’re a buck. And if you suspect that this low price translates to the likelihood that you will be disappointed by the cards’ mediocre artwork, structural flimsiness, or poor fabrication, you’d be wrong.

Trader Joe’s produces high-quality greeting cards. The artwork draws from a broad range of styles and artists, the folds are crisp and precise, and the edges are smoothly cut. Even the envelopes are sturdy, well-constructed, and adequately prepared with adhesive.  Plus, every card comes pre-packaged in a form-fitting plastic sleeve, which is a real benefit if you are sandwiching the cards in your shopping bag between pouches of organic chopped frozen fruit and boxes of TJ’s Pumpkin Pie Mocha Ice Cream. (Note — It has not escaped my attention that these sleeves are an environmental hazard.)

The categories of TJ’s greeting cards range from birthdays to weddings, new job to new baby, and get well to get lost (okay — the latter is an exaggeration). But there are a whole bunch of different themes, from serious to silly. And one of the best things about the selection is that Trader Joe’s routinely carries at least four or five cards that feature pleasing outer photography or artwork paired with blank interiors. These are perfect for people (like me) who enjoy penning their own message.

The next time you are composing your grocery list, add “greeting cards” to round out the selection of staples that you will store in your pantry or freezer. Trader Joe’s offers well-constructed cards in a broad range of styles at a price — only $0.99 — that can’t be beat. But please don’t take my word for it. According to the Trader Joe’s website, in 2017 shoppers purchased almost 17 million of their greeting cards!

For birthdays, cards truly deliver

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The moment I spotted this card last week, I knew I had to buy it. Why? Because I believe that birthdays are occasions that warrant a physical message of recognition and good cheer, one that is chosen by hand, written by hand, and delivered by hand. Showing a close friend or family member that you really care is best done using this method.

At a time when instantaneous digital communication dominates the social landscape, greeting cards can seem quaint — even outdated. But they offer everything that we hunger for in the age pixels and Pinterest: surprise, personalization, intimacy, and lasting value. Those brief birthday wishes that clump up on your Facebook feed once per year? They might offer a degree of surprise and a moment’s worth of personalization, but intimacy and lasting value are two traits that they, at least in my mind, clearly lack.

Which would you rather receive from your closest friends? A phone full of text messages punctuated with emoji, or several colorful envelopes in your mailbox featuring stamps — yes, the Post Office does still sell these miniature pieces of artwork! — and your name printed on the front. Your name written by someone else’s hand! As in, they actually took the time to record every letter of that special group of words that identifies you as a unique being. How revolutionary! How counter-cultural! How refreshingly daring!

Even if seeing your name and your mailing address penned by someone else does not pique your interest, the heft of the envelope itself should send a shiver of possibility up your arm. A greeting card weighs something, actual ounces that can be measured on a scale. Cards are sturdy — even robust — in comparison to the rest of the “gifts” that arrive in your mailbox on an almost daily basis (grocery ads; the Bed, Bath, and Beyond 20% coupon; the latest Kohl’s mega-sale flyer; etc.). But that birthday card? It stands out!

By the time you walk through the garage on the way to the kitchen, you are actually giddy with anticipation about what the envelope might contain. So after you drop your keys on the counter, give the dog an obligatory pat on the head, and deposit the rest of the mailbox’s contents next to the toaster, you stand there holding a thick envelope that still has yet to yield its gift. But you are already feeling good, even warm with the glow of recognition. Someone cared enough to send this gift days in advance (shocking!) so that it would arrive before your special day. And that matters. You can feel it in your chest.

And if your friends truly value you — and they should, right? — they will have chosen cards that mean something special. They transmit a greeting that is decidedly not anonymous in nature; rather, their humor (or seriousness) reflects directly on you and/or your relationship with that person. Case in point: the card pictured above was chosen for a specific friend, because I know that this person will value the dark colors, the matte finish, the wry humor, and the bats. Yes, the bats. Their presence called to me. I knew my friend had to receive this card — in 2019. Yes, I will safely store it for over six months. Trust me.

Although the card’s interior features a greeting (a short “Happy Birthday,” in this case), it is what I will write that will likely make the biggest impact. Not because my inscription will be profound or hysterical or moving, but because those words will be placed there by my hand, with care, in ink, for my friend’s consideration. And those words will honor our relationship, this person’s uniqueness, and the fact that I feel fortunate to have someone in my life whose significance warrants a physical message of recognition and good cheer.

Unlike a text or a Facebook comment, that physical message can then be stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet, set out on a dresser with other keepsakes, or displayed on the mantel above the fireplace along with other friends’ cards. Together, they say that the recipient is being celebrated, not just his/her birthday. They recognize a person, not just a transitory occasion that occurs every twelve months. And they serve as a palpable physical reminder of intrinsic worth for days, if not weeks.

The next time a friend’s birthday appears on your calendar, remember that people matter. And cards truly deliver.

Note — The word hallmark originated in the early 1700s. It refers to a stamp (or a mark) that was used by the Goldsmiths’ Company of London to identify the level of purity of gold or silver. The hallmark was a physical symbol that recognized a standard of value.