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Not All Greeting Card Stores Need 'Sympathies'

The recent sales have given Krepel a renewed optimism, and he says he wants to launch an e-commerce store and be more diligent with social media.

Recent sales aside, Avant Cards is an example of a small business struggling in a shrinking independent greeting card store industry, particularly with the ability to buy cards online and at discount retailers such as Target (TGT), Wal-Mart (WMT) and drugstore chains including CVS (CVS) and Walgreens (WAG).

>>Social Media Strategies for Business

"The impact of the economy on small businesses, the rise in the use of cellphones, email and other electronic media for communication and therefore a decline in writing and mailing personal correspondence, and the pervasiveness of big-box stores and chains selling paper goods and cards, makes it hard for small stores to compete," Caroline Kennedy, editor-in-chief of trade magazine Gifts & Decorative Accessories writes in an email.

Krepel notes that one of his stores used to be in a nearby mall, which also had a Hallmark store and an American Greetings (AM) store. All three have closed, he says.

He blames consumer attitudes more than discount retailers for taking market share.

"It's more psychological than anything," he says. "Here in Lincoln we only have about 5% unemployment. We're mostly an agricultural area. We've been doing pretty darn well. But everybody thinks the same way" as the rest of the country in that "everybody is afraid that they'll be the next to lose their job."

Still, Cinda Baxter, founder and president of The 3/50 project, a campaign to strengthen local bricks-and-mortar businesses by encouraging consumers to shop local, says while small card shops have an uphill battle, they have strengths to call upon.

As a former owner of an upscale stationery store, she knows that even with the proliferation of do-it-yourself paper products such as invitations and letterheads, "corporate customers came scrambling back. They recognized what a lot of consumers are now recognizing ... there are a lot of times when email is not appropriate."

There is a renewed need, particularly in a tough economy, for more personnel connection "that we can't get from a computer," she says.

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