Love of letters grows into greeting card business

Galaxie Safari puts her old stationery and typewriters to use

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By Nona Tepper

Growing up, Kimberly Adami-Hasegawa collected stamps. She had piles of stationery and started writing to a pen-pal in middle school. Now she has 15.

Whether at work at PaperSource in Oak Park or resting in her Forest Park condo, Adami-Hasegawa spends her days crafting. Two years ago, she started a homemade greeting card business, "Galaxie Safari," named after the brands of the two typewriters she uses to key on snappy phrases to the cards, the Royal Safari and Smith Corona Galaxie, respectively. That summer, she applied for what she thought was a long-shot to show her work at the Pleasant Home Petite Boutique craft show. She's been invited back every year since. 

"It's been my dream to do a small business for a long time," she said. "I guess I finally just figured out what I want it to be." 

In the center of Adami-Hasegawa's cards rests a real cancelled stamp — "I've got a guy," she said about where she finds them — followed by a quippy phrase. Her most popular cards, which retail for $7 a pop at the Oak Park Visitors Center, are Abraham Lincoln-themed, with phrases like "Honestly, you're the best" and "You're a babe." But her cards aren't limited to Illinois history.

Galaxie Safari features Alexander Hamilton stamps, Old Faithful postage, the Century of Progress, and more. Adami-Hasegawa thinks up and hand-types the phrase, pastes on the stamp — postage made after the '80s requires a different kind of glue than those made before, apparently — and lines her homemade envelopes with pages from old encyclopedias. The process takes at least an hour per card. 

"When you're done sending them, your recipient can frame them," she said. All of Adami-Hasegawa's cards are blank inside, so letter-writers like herself have room to dish about everything that's going on in their lives.

"I have two grandmas left and I write to them like 100 times more than they write to me," she said, laughing. "Sometimes they don't even remember my birthday."

Her love of letter writing started at a young age, growing from her collection of stylized stationery, typewriters, and stamps. She couldn't buy the materials and not use them, so she started recruiting pen-pals. Now Adami-Hasegawa corresponds with 15 across the globe, some residing as close as Chicago, others as far as New Zealand. She writes to them about the weather, her cat Presley, parties she's thrown. 

"I feel like some of my pen-pals know me better than some of my real-life friends," she said. She's met most of them through the Letter Writers Alliance, a coalition of Chicago letter writers dedicated to preserving the art of written correspondence.

"It's such a different feeling to open your mailbox and see good mail that someone's spent time making for you," she said. "It's a little bit more personal, it's slower. I like slow things. I like that I can write someone a letter and then maybe by a week, some of the news has changed."

Once a week, Adami-Hasegawa carves out time to write to her pen-pals, who range in gender and age. She keeps all their return correspondence, at the end of the year wrapping them in small stacks. "We live in a small condo; it's becoming a point of contention" with her husband Naoto, she joked.  

When they started dating, she said he would email her occasionally, but also surprise her by mailing cards and small notes. She looks back at the cards now fondly, reading them several times a year. As for the emails? She guesses she hasn't read them in about 10 years.  

"I appreciate his beautiful handwriting, and the cards that he chose," she said. "When you send an email it's so quick, but when you sit down and write a letter, you're like spending time, you're like selecting the stationery that either you love or you think your recipient will love. I just love it because he spent time writing it." 

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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