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A clever card snark

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Monday, June 01, 2009
ATSSnarkyThe anti-Hallmark: Alisa Star's Snarky Cards are bitter, biting and popular. Just the right thing to commemorate a divorce or psycho breakup.
Photo by Michael Halle
It’s 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday evening and the Triple Nickel bar on Southeast Belmont in Portland is relatively quiet. A woman dressed in bright red walks up to a table of people and makes a pitch: “Hi, I’m Alisa Star and I make brutally honest greeting cards.” In a few minutes, the people at the table are laughing uproariously, passing stacks of the handmade cards back and forth and shouting out the names of friends who fit the messages on the cards.

Each card is made of handmade paper, decorated with a simple painted flower, and covered with typewritten text that starts with “Dear” and ends with “Sincerely.” What comes in between those two words is usually language and topics that can’t be reprinted in a general-circulation magazine. A few however, are PG rated:

“Happy divorce! Now you can start sleeping with someone who likes you!” “Congratulations on getting a grownup haircut.” “I wish you were cooler or I was more lame. Either way I don’t see this going anywhere.”

They’re biting and acerbic and Star has come up with about 400 designs for her aptly named one-woman business: Snarky Cards. The cards are about relationships, breakups, one-night stands and, for the most part, sex. They sell for $2 each or 3 for $5 and since she quit her job selling printer supplies in mid 2007 to go into business for herself, she’s sold approximately 12,000 cards in 50 Portland bars and stores, and online.

Star, who is 29, moved to Portland from San Jose, Calif., three years ago, following the siren call of the city’s artsy, laid-back reputation. Her background is in sales: business-to-business phone sales, dating service phone sales. The idea behind Snarky Cards came from her own snarky personality. “My nature determined what I’m doing,” she says.

The first thing Star found when she started bringing her cards to bars is that selling sarcasm to the inebriated is easier than selling printer toner to sober people. “People come into bars expecting to have fun. If you’re offering them something funny in that environment, it’s not a hard sell.”

Bar sales require more than just an engaging pitch. She considers herself an entertainment package: She dresses with flair, carries her cards in a handmade box she hangs from her neck and spends as much as 20 minutes at a table, joking and teasing with customers. She’s established a strong enough brand that a large percentage of her bar sales are to repeat customers.

Outside of the bars, Snarky Cards is growing. Retail stores have begun approaching Star on their own accord. She found that by attracting the attention of bloggers, it’s driving her online sales higher. She’s not sure what the economy will do to business. Already she’s seen people become more selective with their purchases. But she’s responded as well, coming up with her own appropriately sardonic take on the meltdown.

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