Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Favorite Stationery Store

That's right, it's spelled with an "e". How many times have you seen that word spelled with an "a" as if it were describing something that is remaining in the same place? These days, probably more often than not.

But a stationery store, while usually stationary, is spelled with an "e", and in a world of Staples and Office World and of course Wal Mart, the stationery store often goes the way of the passenger pigeon.

I do, however, know of one that has managed to outlast the local Staples in Midtown Manhattan. It's on 47th Street and I don't know its name and it is run by a couple of argumentative Orthodox Jews, an African American man who seems to be the one who keeps the place running, and a near-deaf old woman probably the mother of one or both of the argumentative bosses. They keep the place a dreadful mess and the farther back into the store you go, the less you feel like you're in a store but more like you're in an egregiously disorganized back room filled with cardboard and old sandwiches. They write orders out on paper--carbon copy provided. They have a guy who "runs things over to Morrie" or whomever. Their pen collection is tired and dusty. They have odd things on the shelves, like white-out tape, that it seems no one has asked for since the mid nineteen-eighties.

And yet, and yet: they seem to maintain a thriving business. People are always coming in for reams of paper and paper clips and weird pen refills that are no longer manufactured. If you want something, you ask for it (like the old days) and they shuffle back into the dim recesses of the store, or they shove around some boxes under the counter and they get it for you. None of this "self-service" stuff at this place. They sell some up-to-date stuff too--lots of Moleskine notebooks. You can pick these out yourself. But most important, they have outlasted the local Staples.

In a previous post I had made note of how moms and pops fail in the face of the big boxes because they often have a poor attitude and don't seem happy to help. These guys have a swagger, but it's pride of place, and of the certain knowledge that whatever it is you want, they have it somewhere in that unholy mess and will excavate it for you and you will buy it. I've never bothered to compare their prices but I don't think they are the cheapest place in town.

There used to be so many shops like this in New York. Maybe everywhere. This one is hanging in there. I give them business whenever I can, even if the boxes are dented and the pens have to be wiped off before using them.

Staples closed up about a month ago.