Have you been in a Hallmark store lately? They're downright depressing. Humid, dim caves within the malls' caverns, stocked with stale candy, stuffies and ceramic baby statues. The only thing breaking up the gray grandma ennui is the sporadic pulse of some should-be-forgotten '80s tune bleating down the cards-with-sound aisle.
Those greetings are impersonal, which is the exact opposite of their intended goal. Because cards—whether of the happy-birthday or congratulations variety, or simply just because—are a wonderful, almost old-fashioned way to say “Howdy,” “Thanks” or “Good job.” A genuine paper card allows you to take pen to paper and experience the tactile touch of two mediums that are meant for each other. Even when you let the card do the talking and you simply sign your name, that scrawled signature, coupled with the artfulness of a real card, can elevate a piece of paper to the level of actual gift.
But you have to find the right card—something befitting the recipient, something crafty or twisted or witty, something outside the realm of the drugstore card aisle.
Don't let the overtly romantic surroundings (or ridiculously overwrought name) stop you from entering With Love, A Gift and Paperie by La Bel Age in Mission Hills (1620 W. Lewis St.). The frills belie the immense selection of clever cards within. Amidst the glittering fountains of fleur de lis and feather butterflies are eclectic, small card lines like Bald Guy (which features snarling sarcastic sentiments as well as same-sex-marriage cards) and the Gwendolen line from the U.K. that are recyclable and compostable with hipster-rific line drawings and watercolor plaid backdrops. Pulp book covers have turned up on cards before, but the ones from British company Bodleian Library are actually die-cut like a book and feature the original jacket text, replete with heaving bosoms, threatening glances and queer happenings.
Letterpress card lines have been cool for a few years now. They're the antithesis of the slick computer graphics of the '80s. Tactile and DIY-inspired with an almost engraved look, these cards just look fancier, even as their sentiment claims smarmy ridiculousness, as in one from LunaLux Press that features a classic French drawing of a pig on the front: “There is only one loser in a bacon eating contest.” That sap-less winner can be found at India Ink in Little Italy (1907 Columbia St., No. 1), a full-service invitation design house with a splendid assortment of mostly letterpressed cards. Egg Press cards out of Portland, Ore., has been pushing metal to paper for years, and it's at India Ink that you'll find the best selection of their wares in San Diego. You'll also find practical yet plucky cards from Elum (who make brilliant baby-update cards for over-sharing parents), as well as cards of the non-letterpress variety from funny folks like Paul Frank.
For more miniature works of art, walk right by Babette Schwartz (whose tremendous card selection is predictably loud and ostentatious) and head into neighboring candle store Cathedral (435 University Ave. in Hillcrest). It carries the crazy-gorgeous line of cards from Night Owl Paper Goods out of Birmingham, Ala. Paper Goods is a somewhat ironic misnomer, because these are wood cards—as in real, eco-friendly sustainably harvested good ol' yellow birch. That'd be a cool gimmick if it weren't for the fact that the designs are so flipping poetic. Crafted like a postcard, you can write on them effortlessly with pen or pencil. And, unlike flashing eCards, they're the kind of thing one keeps around for years and years.
Urban Scout is CityBeat's new bi-weekly shopping column. If you have any tips or suggestions, write to email@example.com