Not all card stores will survive.

"It needs to be about unique cards," Baxter says. "Handmade cards are wonderful things that you cannot buy online. Ideally you want to create inventory that is unique, that people need to come to you for, and you need to layer that with fantastic customer service. It's the experience as much as the product."

Zoel Fages, the owner of Perch, an urban gift and home decor store in San Francisco, says cards are his third-best sales category.

"We do a little more off-humor," he says. "We still have nice cards, but I think the selection we offer is what has helped us."

Especially in the economy, "someone will be willing to spend even $4 to $5.50 for a card -- maybe not a gift -- but if they found a really nice card that really hits the nail on the head for the person they are buying for," he says.

Cards are such a popular item at Perch that Fages decided rather than to sell boxed holiday cards, this year he is letting customers mix and match separates. Perch will offer price breaks at six cards bought and again at a dozen, he says. He also plans to create a loyalty program for cards.

"When we opened I had closets with two doors that I made cards and I now have both walls and five spinners" filled with cards, he says. "People come in and buy 20 cards at a time. If it's a really slow day, sometimes it's all cards."

Dana Norman, owner of CardSmart in Plainview, N.Y., is fairly new to the card store business.

Norman, along with her business partner, Michele Rothberg, bought the discount card store in June from its original owner because they thought there was untapped opportunity, given the affluent clientele and high foot traffic in the shopping center where the business is located.

"We felt that there was a void. The prior owner was missing the mark in what the market needed," Norman says.

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