hoever said that print is dead obviously hasn’t visited one of many popular stationery stores around the country. These specialty shops – which are becoming increasingly chic and boutique – have been attracting discerning customers interested in alternatives to all things digital. Whether it’s a wedding invitation, birth announcement or simply a greeting card posted to a faraway friend, stationery is experiencing a kind of renaissance, especially when it comes to trends in eco-friendly paper goods and independent letterpress.
For shoppers who want to sit and browse the invitation selection, Paper on Pine provides a comfortable seating area that fits in perfectly with the store’s friendly environment.
Melissa Noucas, the manager at Paper on Pine in Philadelphia, Pa., said that her shop – though small at 1,000 square feet – carries a full range of stationery products for a variety of very loyal, urban-based customers in the city's eclectic Midtown Village area who are looking for modern answers to traditional paper goods.
“Our inventory ranges from colorful open-stock paper to guest books and photo albums to candles and everything between,” said Noucas. “We have many things for paper lovers, too, like boxed stationery sets, printed papers and wrap, pens, journals and planners, and a wall full of cards.”
The friendly shop even carries a few choice party supplies and paper goods, like napkins and plates, as well as unique gifts in the form of Italian-made frames and journals, scented soy candles and desk and entertainment accessories. Noucas admitted that having an expanded inventory with gifts makes Paper on Pine a one-stop shop for someone searching for a last-minute token of appreciation.
“We also have a section for children's gifts,” she said, “and a section for guest books and other wedding necessities and gifts.” And while the core of the business is in custom stationery and invitation design, said Noucas, the shop carries a range of popular vendors, including Vera Wang, Crane & Co., Dauphine Press and William Arthur.
Paper on Pine – which is actually on 13th Street – also does in-house custom graphic design and printing. “Our inventory is always changing, which is definitely a benefit of being an independently owned store,” she said. “We’ve found that many of our eco-friendly cards and stationery tend to sell pretty quickly. Many customers also come in looking for green business and wedding stationery.”
Overall, the top sellers at Paper on Pine – like many shops around the country – are the quirky, often humorous selection of cards from companies like Offensive and Delightful, MikWright and Seltzer Cards. “One of our favorite things is when we hear our customers chuckle when they open one of our cards,” said Noucas. “They’re not cards you’d find in a typical Hallmark store.”
The shop sells many cards with unique graphics from Snow & Graham, Hello Lucky! and Compendium (which are also eco-friendly). They also carry a local line of handmade cards called Little Pearl Designs that stand out on the racks.
But cards aren’t the only attraction at the friendly shop. “Le Pens, German-designed LAMY pens and Space Pens are our bestsellers,” said Noucas. “The Space pens are a new item of ours that sell through almost the instant we get them in. They were designed by NASA for use by astronauts and have a pressurized cartridge that never leaks, spills or explodes and can write up-side down, under water, on the moon – you name it.”
She also said the recycled Waste Not Card stock sells very well. “We have a wall of open stock paper and envelopes in a variety of fun colors available to our customers that they can use to create their own stationery, invitations, etc.,” said Noucas. “We sell some stickers and seals, but find that people are more interested in our colored wax and wax seals.”
This year, Noucas is keeping an eye on the latest trends in letterpress and laser-cutting with designs that she said are “fresh” and “innovative” on greeting cards and stationery. “Right now, we’re doing lots of pocket invitations,” she said. “We’re predicting more of an emphasis on typography and contemporary designs, and less of the typical centered text, single-motif invitations.”
At Kate’s Paperie in New York City’s trendy SOHO district, customers are treated to upscale paper goods that go above and beyond what people might expect of specialty stationery. The artistic product lines, like Shibori paper – a featured good at the Spring Street shop – relies on time-honored traditions to rethink modern forms of communication.
Handmade cards are also featured both in the shop and online, including three-dimensional cards on lokta, an eco-friendly paper handmade in Nepal.
Another new item is a blank card with a five-color rainbow butterfly stitched together on a crisp, white background. And while the prices are higher for the handmade designs (well over $7 each) customers are interested in the cards as unique standalone gifts.
Scrapbooking is also a huge hobby for many paper enthusiasts. Kate’s recently began stocking contemporary, colorful scrapbooks made from recycled leather, according to one of the salespeople we spoke to by phone. The shop also sends out e-news announcements about new items to customers who sign up online.
Other new products include pop-out cards featuring iconic New York City images of taxi cabs, King Kong and the Empire State Building that can stand-in as paper sculpture. Kate’s has even begun carrying many more accessories than ever before – like unique cell phone cases, laptop bags and passport covers, as well as whimsical art prints (pictures of pets really sell), cocktail napkins and café plates.
At House & Paper in Miami, the shop has specialized in stationery and china on Sunset Drive’s popular shopping strip since 1996. While it might at first seem like an unlikely combination, the upscale inventory attracts brides-to-be looking for elegant alternatives for weddings.
While the shop’s manager is always attentive to popular design trends, the retailer also honors more traditional inventory, like wax hand stamps and charming paper by the sheet along with Saint Louis fine china. Elegance is House & Paper’s middle name.
And for more than 35 years, The Desk Set in San Francisco has been serving customers in need of paper goods and gifts. The shop stocks personal and professional stationery, as well as thank-you notes, correspondence cards, gifts and pens and offers customizable designs for invitations and other needs.
The shop’s Manager, Rachel Lopez Metzger, is also the principal designer for RLM design – she’s remodeled the store and is updating the inventory to meet the needs of customers looking for one-stop shopping (cards and gifts), as well as full service for custom books, stationery and invitations. The Desk Set designed the San Francisco Opera Guild’s seasonal invitation, which was featured as the “invitation of the week” in the San Francisco Chronicle.
One way the shop attracts customers considering custom design work is to give away free services, like a spring special for free in-house printing set up, custom proofing and shipping on invitations.
The shop also offers discounts on bulk orders, like 25 free invitations on an order of 75 invitations from William Arthur – a popular vendor at the shop. They also sometimes give discounts, like 25 percent off of haute wedding invitations from brands like Checkerboard.
The staff also showcases cards and other novelties in racks outside the shop – where a decorative awning was recently added to the façade – to attract interest from passersby who may be enticed inside the store. The shop enjoys real estate in a very commercial section of town shared by other independent and chain businesses.
A view of the sales floor at Paper on Pine in Philadelphia, Pa. The store stocks everything a paper lover could want.
Metzger’s not afraid to stock more unusual cards from emerging independent vendors, like letterpress cards from Lead Graffiti in Newark, Del., and others she finds at trade shows. Many paper retailers around the country now carry letterpress goods as a way to distinguish inventory from chain stores specializing in greeting cards and gift wrap.
Sign of the Times
The Paper Patch in Portland, Maine, has been in business since the early 1970s. With two other New England outposts in Portsmouth, N.H., and Newburyport, Mass., the independent chain knows exactly what it takes to ride the paper wave during the digital revolution. The largest store is about 2,500 square feet, and the smallest is just under 1,000 square feet.
Rob Sevigny, the Paper Patch’s Portland manager, admitted that staying on top of trends usually means offering customized products. “The Paper Patch is a purveyor of upscale stationery and papers,” he said. “We carry a variety of boxed notes, stationery kits, napkins, invitations, gift wrap, bags and accessories, and, of course, greeting cards.” The shops also offer custom printing of personalized stationery, birth announcements and invitations for weddings and many special occasions.
“Green paper products are extremely popular,” said Sevigny. “Everyone today is very environmentally conscious. Most of the greeting cards we offer are printed on recycled paper, and many of our boxed notes are also green.” The Paper Patch also carries a wide variety of gift bags and gift wrap made from recycled materials.
“Most of the card lines offered at The Paper Patch are from small, independent companies,” Sevigny explained. “Our most popular cards are handmade cards because of their quality, and because they underscore the importance of honoring a particular event. Handmade cards are special, and almost a gift in itself.”
Humorous cards are also very popular at the downtown shop. “Customers often will stand in front of the racks and laugh out loud,” said Sevigny, who’s always looking for new designs from artists and vendors who strike a chord with customers. “You can never laugh too loud or too often.”
The shop also carries goods that pair expertly with the popular paper and card products. “We offer a wide selection of inexpensive pens,” he said. “The most popular are calligraphy pens in all colors, fountain pens and gel pens.” Customers also collect stickers from The Patch, especially younger visitors to Portland, which has long been a popular tourist destination in the region.
Spotting trends has become a kind of sport for Sevigny after all these years in the business. “I am always searching for new paper products presented in creative ways,” he admitted. “The gift bag industry has really developed nicely. Gone are the plain craft bags and gift wrap. Presentation of the gift is almost as important as the gift itself. This line of thought has cultivated gift bags with many handmade qualities, and gift wrap with lots of bling and textures.”
When it comes to card and stationery vendors in general, the shop focuses on small, independent and creative companies, as well as local artists. “The typical customer is someone who really likes nice papers and appreciates good quality, selection and value,” said Sevigny. “It is someone who carefully selects a greeting card not by its price, but by its sentiment, humor and applicability to the intended recipient.”