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Finding words to fit the occasion

As vice president of Great Arrow Graphics, Lisa Samar works daily to produce greeting cards sold throughout the country. These are not your typical cards, explained Samar. They are hand-screened in Buffalo, color by color a process that takes four days.

At age 44, Samar takes pride in the cards she helps to create. The messages they contain are short and poignant, products of brainstorming sessions held regularly at the company's offices in the Tri-Main Center.

Thousands of Great Arrow cards circulate through boutiques and markets here, across Canada and in the United Kingdom. Find them at Lexington Cooperative Market, Whole Foods and Wegmans.

>People Talk: How many varieties of Mother's Day cards do you carry?

Lisa Samar: Not a huge amount, maybe 18 or 20. We group Mother's Day with our spring seasonal products -- Mom, Dad and grad. For us -- we work with freelance artists -- Mother's Day has always been the hardest holiday to illustrate. It's even harder than sympathy. It's just always been that way.

>PT: Why?

LS: It's such a hard thing to express how you feel to your mom. Do we want to put cards out that just apply to your mom? Or do we make it generic, so you can send it to your gramma or someone who represents your mother in your life? Some people don't have moms. It's one of these difficult occasions.

>PT: Are the greetings inside difficult to create?

LS: We arm wrestle over language, but we keep things simple. We don't fill up the whole inside of the card. We're not Hallmark or American Greetings, where we sit down and write this big long poem. Ours is about the graphic and the simple heartfelt message. Sometimes they're funny. Sometimes they're cute.

>PT: "Thank you very mulch" is priceless. Did you write that?

LS: We sit down in greeting meetings -- talk about it in a group -- at a table piled with cards. The best greetings come from brainstorming -- when we all have headaches and we're ornery. All of a sudden, it's there. Alan [Friedman, the president] loves puns and he usually has the final say.

>PT: What makes a well-thought sympathy card?

LS: The message can't be too flowery. We try to help the person who's sending it to have an easy way of writing something inside. One of our best says: "The beauty of a life well-lived is that it's never forgotten." It won a Louis Award.

>PT: What's a Louis Award?

LS: They're given out during the National Stationery Show to mark excellence in the greeting card industry. We've won a lot of them.

>PT: When it comes to verse, what has been your finest moment?

LS: I have an anniversary card that says: "I love you every day." Actually my anniversary cards have been the things I like the most. There's one with a couple on their wedding day, and it says: "And they lived happily ever after. Happy anniversary." So simple, nice, kind of loving things. I don't know what that says about me.

>PT: What's a trend in your company?

LS: Any kind of animal -- and cupcakes. Pet sympathy is popular now. We don't do Hallmark holidays like Grandparents Day.

>PT: How do you keep track of the competition?

LS: The Greeting Card Association. They have conventions and they host the Louis Awards in New York in May. It's where we connect with designers from other companies. The association -- especially the bigger companies -- is trying very hard to attract the younger generation because in general, greeting cards are sold to women ages 35 to 65.

>PT: How long does it take to make one card?

LS: Four days from the printing to folded, packaged and on the shelf. We print one color on a card at a time and let it dry, so it's a very slow process to make a rack of cards. It takes one printer one day to make 1,200 prints. Production puts the greeting on the inside, our company logo on the back. Then it gets cut down and scored and folded. So it gets touched by 10 or 12 people.

>PT: What about seconds?

LS: We try not to have them. Usually the scraps get reused, though we do sell discontinued stuff up front. We usually don't have too much that is not perfect. We can't. It has to be right.

>PT: What's the deal with your square cards requiring more postage?

LS: The post office has a problem running square envelopes through its machines. The machine can't "right" it, so it has to be sorted by hand. They need a butterfly stamp -- a 65-cent stamp -- to mail, but people still seem to be buying them. We don't produce any for Christmas. You can offer standard postage envelopes, and we do, but they're ugly.

>PT: What are your thoughts on e-cards?

LS: I really don't like them. Our industry really thought that e-cards were something that would ruin it all, but I think it's really a fad. I used to get some, and I really don't get any anymore. An e-card is a cop-out.