Street Smart Chicago

In the Cards: Third Coast Collection offers Chicago-Centric greetings

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Greeting cards are brimming with sappy epistles unfit for sober consumption, and if the inside isn’t a drag, the outside is. The Chicago-Centric series from Third Coast Collection might solve those gift-card woes with hometown pride: neighborhood names and boundary streets, zip codes, bus and El routes, (312) and (773). Fit for host or hostess, sister or brother, girlfriend or boyfriend, these cards balance easily between masculine and feminine.

“They’re clever, not cheesy,” says Kara Underwood Gordon, Chicago-based designer and Third Coast founder. “A single guy can give this card to his single guy friend and not be embarrassed.”

The gender-neutral colors and sharp, bold designs emanated from a simple quest for a thank-you card. Gordon ransacked her favorite stationery stores in the Chicago area but could not find that ideal blend of “not feminine, not cheesy, not a Hallmark card” for her male cousin to send to his graduate-school interviewer.

Plus, Gordon says, the plain cards usually come in six-packs, but are also sold individually. “Being a guy, [my cousin] doesn’t want to buy six cards of anything.”

Having worked as an event planner, designing invitations with more attention to aesthetic detail than her employers ever noticed, Gordon entered the realm of custom wedding invitations. Last winter, she and two friends began brainstorming distinguishing characteristics of the city’s neighborhoods, and from there, the Chicago-Centric series was born.

“They’re a hidden, lost gem. Nobody has done anything quite like this yet,” she says.

Gordon released the company’s first prints to local card shops in early spring, which included the ABC’s of Chicago (i.e. G is for great lakes, H is for hot dogs, I is for Illinois) and the “I heart” set. ThirdCoastCollection.com launched in October.

“We started with Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and the Loop, but it kept going,” Gordon explains. “It’s funny because I get people who write to me and say, ‘Where is Bucktown?’ I keep thinking about it [the design] and as soon as it’s right, I add it on to the collection. We perfect it and make it witty.”

Designing the cards etymologically and aesthetically is fairly time consuming, so Gordon employs Rohner Letterpress in Ravenswood to do the printing. “They actually make an iron plate [of my designs], and one big machine presses them on paper one by one.”

All Third Coast cards are 4.25 inches by 5.5 inches, printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink, and all fonts correspond with their respective neighborhoods. Predominantly text-based designs, the cards’ efficacy relies on the precision of their typography.

“I love fonts,” admits Gordon. “Every one fits their neighborhoods. Lincoln Park is very Pottery Barn, the Loop is very jazz.”

Under the handwritten-esque Lakeview rests “ballparks, bike paths, beer gardens” between bullet points. Old Times-style Lincoln Square gets “beers, brats, babies.” Leafy Old Town has “good food, good wine, great comedy.”

Six Chicago shops currently carry individual cards and boxed sets in-store, but Gordon recommends perusing Third Coast’s website for a wider selection, complete with recycled tote bags. Pushed from the corporate world to one “where people care,” the designer will fuse her custom wedding work with the Chicago theme in January, and open her own River North storefront in the near future.

“A lot of people buy [the cards] as gifts, for people who love their neighborhoods. They make a great hostess gift, thank-you card, or just to have on hand.” (Kristine Sherred)

Available at All She Wrote, 825 West Armitage; Chopping Block, 4747 North Lincoln and The Merchandise Mart; Fleur, 3149 West Logan; Noteworthy Notes, 3629 North Halsted; Smitten Boutique, 1041 West Madison. ThirdCoastCollection.com.

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