Chandra Greer takes a stand on social civility

[Alyson Kuhn] Chandra Greer has a sharp eye. Her shop — simply named Greer — in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood sports a stellar selection of cards, most of which are available on Greer’s website. Her motto since opening her shop 11 years ago — or maybe it’s become her mantra — is “Civility is not a sign of weakness.”

In June, Greer will relaunch her website, with new functionality that showcases products by designer. Chandra is shopping at the National Stationery Show this week, where she will be looking for … more cards.

This card rack at Greer was custom built from old tin ceiling tiles.

What will you be looking for card-wise?
I do not buy any card unless I personally love it. With our diverse customer base, it’s fortunate that my tastes are broad — it’s not as if I only like one look. From the wild to the pristine, from the classic to the completely unconventional, I’m game, as long as there is something about a card that is excellent — be it the concept, the design, the quality of the printing or the paper. I have bought cards on cheap cover stock because I thought the idea was so phenomenal. But I would never buy a card on unlovely paper if it wasn’t “doing” something. There are so many great designers out there.

I’ve admired your site for a long time. What prompted the redo?
Thanks! The new site will be much easier for people to get through, and I really wanted to support the designers whose cards and other products we sell. Many of them have day jobs and do this on the side. If the talent is there, I want not just to take a chance on them, but to promote them.

“Some Days Feel Like Helvetica” from A. Favorite Design

Can you give us an example of a card-design success story?
Take A. Favorite Design. A couple of years ago, Amber Favorite came to the shop with her cards in a lunchbox. I think the only other place she was selling them was Paperboy, where she worked at the time. I loved her cards and started selling them. Fast forward to last year’s National Stationery Show [2010], where she exhibited for the first time. Her booth was mobbed, and I’d say she was one of the stand-outs of the entire show! She took me aside and said, “Thank you for your faith in me when I started out. You gave me the confidence I needed to go forward with this line.” I’ve always tried to support and encourage designers, especially those just starting out, without expectation of acknowledgement … but what Amber said to me that day was one of the highlights of my entire career.

“Champion Love Bracket” from A. Favorite Design

What about another favorite?
Molly Meng, whose studio is 8mm Ideas, makes incredible ephemera-based cards. She creates each and every design with tears, rips, cuts from vintage paper, ledger books, old photos, whatever she can get her hands on, and then she starts the layering process, attaching them with adhesive. Each card is its very own piece of art, which gets scanned, clarified, and printed in her studio. For “Hi-Ya” [below], she cut an image out of an old science book and then ripped the text out of a vintage language lesson book. And the backdrop they both sit on [the “part one” layer] is from a juicy old book called A Little Voyage. As Molly points out, this seems fitting, because “hello” is usually the first part of any good conversation!

“Hi-Ya” from 8mm ideas

Is there anyone whose cards you discovered at the Stationery Show last year?
Yes, Lead Graffiti. It was their first year at the show. And it is their Boxcards that I just love, so I asked them to do a Chicago Trash line [below] exclusively for us. Another exciting designer I picked up was Sapling Press. I was especially in love with her ManCard and We Go Together lines. Word is she has some new things this year that are going to blow everyone’s socks off.

Lead Graffiti turns trash into treasure: Box from Dreamfield’s Pasta letterpress printed metallic silver

Inside story: The transparent window originally allowed the shopper to see the pasta.

The smallest cards you sell are too small to mail. What’s the story behind your Civilettes?
Ah. Several years ago, I was going to my car, and I dropped my purse. Everything in it fell out in the middle of the street. A woman came running over and helped me pick up every single thing. I remember thinking at the time how much I would have loved to give her something right then to thank her. Why can’t you have little cards that you can hand someone in a situation like that? So, I designed a little packet of Thank You Civilettes, followed pretty quickly by Love, then Good Job, and, most recently, Apology. The cards are offset printed locally at Digital Hub, green printers extraordinaire. The little case is foil stamped.

Are Civilettes popular?
Civilettes are consistently our top-selling product. Three months ago, Guideposts magazine, which is like Reader’s Digest in size, with a huge circulation, published an article about my creating Civilettes. The article did not include a link to our site, so anyone who was interested in actually buying Civilettes had to search us out. We received 1500 orders! And we also wholesale Civilettes.

Today people can express themselves electronically in an instant, via text or e-mail or even an e-card. What is your stance in favor of actual cards and correspondence?
Basically, society is becoming increasingly technological. Notes on paper are one of the last tangible ways to show sentiments, feelings, appreciations, thoughts, kindness — all of those emotions. On a daily basis, you can translate your emotions and your thoughts into something physical … that you give to someone else. I think it’s irreplaceable. I don’t save my e-mails — even if they are particularly touching — but I save every touching note. I think we will be very sorry in about 40 years, when we realize how much family history has been lost because people have stopped writing things down.

Paper gymnastics: Desk accessories from Schleeh are a staple at Greer.

In June, Chandra will show Felt & Wire readers some of her favorite card finds from this year’s National Stationery Show and talk about the mood in the marketplace.

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Comments (1)

  1. Posted by Bari Zaki on 05.16.11 at 11:57 am

    Chandra, I LOVE that picture of you!!!

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