You don't see many postcards in black-and-white these days. And the blurb on the back isn't often written by a landmark expert.
But an upstart postcard company called Only in Buffalo Advertising & Promotion isn't afraid to defy convention. After all, it's on a mission.
The company wants to use the power of the mails to reverse the Queen City's negative image. Its 22-card series of historic people and places aims to educate out-of-towners about the area's rich past, countering the sort of remarks heard on late-night talk shows. Perhaps the cards -- priced at three-for-$1 at most locations -- could even help the city draw tourists, investment and jobs, the company says.
"We didn't print postcards just to stick them in the stores," company founder and president Steve Szpakowski said. "Our goal is to get 1 million of these mailed out to other parts of the world and the country."
The cards showcase architectural treasures like the Darwin Martin house, the Guaranty Building and Buffalo City Hall. Others depict famous citizens like Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland.
Austin M. Fox, the late preservationist and chairman of the Landmark Society, gets a credit on some cards for the explanatory text.
Many of these scenes don't play in color, Szpakowski says. The 1906 shot of the Martin house, for example, shows it "as Frank Lloyd Wright intended it to look," he says. Eight of the 22 scenes are period photographs in black-and-white.
Szpakowski started working on the idea about two years ago, with help from business expert Allan Korn, teacher of an entrepreneurship class at the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State College.
To fund printing costs, Only in Buffalo got a stake of $20,000 from Hart Hotels, owner of five area properties. Hart gets a sponsorship credit on the back, along with the address of its Web site, www.harthotels.com.
"We put them out for sale in May and sold over 10,000 already," president David Hart said. "I don't have anything to compare it to, but I think that's pretty good."
But most of the initial printing of 250,000 cards sits in inventory or on store shelves in Tops Markets, Wilson Farms and other outlets, the company says. Although the cards do well in tourist locations, sales are slower elsewhere. "People are preconditioned to buy postcards when they're on vacation, so they're passing by those racks," Szpakowski says.
The presumption that only visitors buy postcards is another rule that Only in Buffalo is trying to break. The idea, Szpakowski says, is to sell cards where residents will see them, buy them, and send them to out-of-town friends, out of pride. Only in Buffalo is also launching a campaign for corporations to mail the cards out to clients, promoting their business and the city at the same time.
The company plans a publicity campaign to get more businesses, as well as residents, on the bandwagon. At a wholesale price of 21.5 cents per card, meeting the company's ambitious 1 million card goal would generate $215,000, before printing, design and other expenses.
In May, the call center ICT Group tracked Szpakowski down and ordered a batch of cards to send to clients and prospects nationwide. ICT sends 15 to 20 of the cards a month as thank-you notes and appointment reminders, said Antoinette Forth, vice president of business development.
"They find them interesting," she said. "People will say 'I didn't know Buffalo had all that.' "