Holiday cards, decorating too onerous? Outsource.

Holiday cards mailed. Homes decorated. Gifts bought. St. Louis service firms see rebound in holiday business.

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    Annie Faust, owner and operator of Annie Wrap in Southfield, Mich., has a side business decorating other people's homes for the holidays. In this 2009 photo, she swaps out an autumn wreath with a Christmas holiday wreath on a customer's home. From setting up lights to mailing holiday cards, service companies do it all.
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'Tis the season to pawn off potentially stressful holiday chores and rediscover merry.

The gloom and frugality of the recession may be lifting for service-oriented businesses that allow customers to outsource seasonal errands they dread. From holiday decorating to shopping, cooking and mailing holiday cards, there's someone willing to do the work — for a price.

And customers are finding their way back to the convenience of letting someone else take care of the details. Analysts say high-end consumers have been quicker to return in this economy compared with those still worried about employment fears.

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Nancy Kirchhoff, 61, of Kirkwood, pays to have her house professionally decorated for the holidays. She says it's 'so worth" the few hundred dollars she spends to have her mantel decorated, her Santa Claus collection set up and decorations displayed in her home. It saves her an entire weekend of unpacking, sorting and hanging.

"I never would find the time to get my Christmas cards sent on time. Now, I can spend more time making cookies and wrapping gifts, doing things I enjoy," she said.

Brandon Stephens, vice president of marketing for Texas-based Christmas Decor, said many of its 350 franchisees have seen a sharp spike in requests for holiday light installation.

"During the recession, we had some people cutting back," he said. "We're seeing a pretty significant rebound this year."

The average cost for an installation is about $1,400, he said. It can be cheaper than long-term couples therapy, however.

Stephens said the installers hear from wives who say: "I'm tired of nagging my husband to get out there and hang the lights. You saved my marriage."

Likewise, some women are thrilled to hand off the boxes of ornaments and boughs of garland to a professional holiday home stylist.

Anne Hensley, 65, of Glendale, says she has hired a designer for years to display her Christmas decorations.

"I put out my stuff, and when I come home, the place is like a magical wonderland," she said. Hensley said she ends up saving money by having Barb O'Brien, owner of the Silver Garden in Kirkwood, rearrange her old decorations rather than going out and buying new stuff.

"It's the way I take care of myself," she explained. "It absolutely takes the stress away."

O'Brien, who specializes in getting the area's homes decked for the holidays, says clients are booking her services earlier this year and are scheduling her in advance to come back in January and pack everything away.

There's also extra help available in the kitchen for the culinary-challenged and time-pressed. Todd Vasel, a spokesman for Dierbergs Markets, said the stores have seen a marked increase in catering orders compared with last year. Families are busier and want to spend less time in the kitchen, he said. But they still want holiday dinners to taste homemade and remind them of the foods they ate when they were younger, he said.

"Customers are returning to buying patterns that pre-date the economic downturn," he said.

Kate Klotz, a spokeswoman for Whole Foods Market, said the stores in the Midwest region experienced "better-than-expected" orders off the holiday menu, which includes foods such as an apricot-glazed turkey breast or a meatless wild rice cranberry field roast with quinoa and figs.

"People are buying more complete dinners this year instead of bits and pieces in years past," Klotz said. Shoppers bought bigger turkeys than last year, which may mean larger parties, she said.

Bruce Clithero, founder and owner of Concierge services of St. Louis, based in Ballwin, says he has gotten requests to do holiday shopping, wrap gifts and mail holiday cards.

John Voirol, a personal stylist manager at Nordstrom at West County Center, says the store offers free personal shoppers for customers too busy to pick out gifts. One of the store's clients was a local business wanting to reward top salespeople. The employer called the store with the gift budget and a price point for each recipient. As efficiently as elves, the store's shoppers found the items, boxed them and delivered them. Voirol says he has helped families pick out coordinating outfits for holiday photo shoots. He advises those needing help with shopping to do a little bit of snooping beforehand.

"See what sizes they are, what colors they already have and which brands they like," he said. If that's too difficult or you don't have access to a closet, simply sharing the gift recipient's hobbies and age is enough for Voirol.

"We'll take care of it from there, and you won't have to worry about it," he said.

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