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Recession Takes Holiday Toll

CHICAGO - Are you receiving fewer holiday cards this year? Sarah Tompkins can explain.

"I'm not sending any," says Tompkins, 41, a Web designer in a Chicago suburb. "Do the math: the cost of the cards, then 44 cents for each stamp times 50 cards. That's an indulgence I just can't afford this year."

The U.S. Postal Service says there was an 11% decline in cancellations of first-class cards and letters from Dec. 1-13 - when most Americans mail holiday cards - compared to 2008.

The Postal Service expects to deliver 16.6 billion cards, letters and packages between Thanksgiving and Dec. 24, down from 19 billion last year, says spokesman Michael Woods.

Hallmark spokeswoman Deidre Mize says about 1.8 billion Christmas cards will be sent this year, down from 1.9 billion to 2 billion in recent years. The use of Hallmark e-cards sent via e-mail is dropping, she says.

"Sending a paper greeting card is a holiday tradition that's not going away," says American Greetings spokeswoman Meghan Olmstead. Still, trends reflect the times:

- Suggesting that senders want to be upbeat in the tough economy, funny and inspirational cards are popular this year, says Troy Rivington, owner of Paper Doll, a Boulder, Colo., card shop. Customers are buying single cards instead of boxed sets and are "just being more selective about who they send cards to," he says.

- Frankie Andrae, co-owner of Original Expressions, a Chicago card store, says many of her customers ordered 75 or 100 cards instead of their usual 150 and wanted no "fancy stuff." Boxes of 20 smaller cards that cost $9.95 are popular, she says.

- Cards with music and nostalgic scenes are selling well, says Carol Miller, new products director at American Greetings. Customers are "focusing on the good times," she says.

- A popular Hallmark service addresses, stamps and mails cards customers design online, says product manager Maureen Dilger. New this year on Hallmark's website: holiday postcards that cost 28 cents to mail. The Postal Service has a similar service and adds personalized postage.

Susan Burns, manager of Cherie's Hallmark in Asheville, N.C., hasn't noticed a sales decline. "If you're watching your money and you can't afford a gift this year," she says, "maybe you'll send a card instead."

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