By Sara Karnish
As consumers increasingly return to everyday life, some pandemic-inspired trends have carried over. “Screen fatigue,” caused by hours spent working and learning online, has inspired a return to the days of hand-writing cards and letters. Stationery stores are seeing a resurgence of customers wanting to put pen to paper, rather than fingers to keyboard, in their written correspondence.
“So many people come into the store and they say, ‘Well, no one writes anymore. They text.’ My argument is—we sell a lot of stationery now. I think there is a craving for a tactile experience,” said Nancy Laboz, owner of Parcel in Montclair, N.J. “I think there’s a craving for holding onto past generations and the way things were done. People are very interested in pressing wax seals; if the paper is hand-made or hand-torn, there’s a nod to the olden days of writing letters. It’s kind of a romantic notion. I have men coming in to buy writing paper. Gift wrapping was more prominent than ever this past year. To hold a pen and practice handwriting again…there’s a little bit of a ritual to that. Where it may be lost in business correspondence, I think it’s picked up in personal correspondence. Journaling is big. The younger generation is newly embracing that. For us, being kind of vintage-inspired has helped. It’s all those beautiful traditions coming back. People come to us knowing they’re going to get the finery in writing and paper.”
Like other retailers, stationers say customers want unique paper and writing implements to send personal messages. Greeting cards are also enjoying something of a Renaissance, said Jennifer Luna, owner of Paper Luxe Stationery and Gifts, with locations in Fircrest and Gig Harbor, Wash. “[Our best-sellers] are birthday, sympathy, or just because. Greeting cards are an affordable way for anyone to connect with friends and family that makes both the sender and the recipient feel good in a way that just cannot compete with digital. We also have card collectors that just find their favorites and save them to frame as artwork, display on their desk at work, or to stash away for the perfect occasion.” Besides cards, Luna said stickers are among her strongest sellers. “We sell so many stickers. They are an inexpensive way to express yourself on your laptop, water bottle, or car. They are also so fun and easy to buy for others and to send in the mail in a greeting card. People can’t resist when they see one from their best friend’s favorite television show, or their spouse’s favorite hobby, or a local city sticker to express their own local love…it’s an easy grab and go gift.”
Liz Richmond, owner of The Paperbag in Allentown, Pa., said she is seeing a greater demand for writing paper than in previous years for many of the same reasons: “I’m just seeing a trend in customers wanting general stationery. People are getting back to the written word. It doesn’t matter what it’s on—cards, stationery. The pandemic was really a great influence on people getting back to the written word. People couldn’t see each other, so they would send a card. We were closed for 13 weeks, but even after we reopened, it took people time to feel comfortable coming back into stores. [When they came back] our card sales went up. Our wedding business is coming back—we’re back to where we were, to some extent.”
Richmond and other stationers saw much of their wedding goods business disappear in the wake of COVID. It is returning as cancelled or postponed events are rescheduled. Amy Bass, owner of Nota Bene Fine Paper Boutique in Pittsburgh, Pa., said much of her wedding business is coming back. “Invitations are still popular—either the parents will insist on it, or the couple will want to do it because it sets such a tone. Not everyone wants to send an e-vite. We do invitations for birthdays, baby showers, bridal showers. We’re still really busy with weddings—[the invitation] really does set the tone for the event.” Bass has remained competitive in a largely digital world by “being one of the few remaining stationery stores. We do in-house printing—flat digital printing, so they can pick out a box of stationery and have it printed for them in one to two days. We do a lot of letter press, which is very popular. We do a lot of digital flat printing, which allows for bringing color into the design. None are done in-house—some of our popular lines are Bella Figura, Arzberger. We still do some Crane, and William Arthur, and Cramer Drive,” she explained.
Stationers find new vendors in different ways. “There used to be a big stationery show where new vendors would show up constantly. That’s almost nonexistent right now,” Bass said. “I rely more on our existing vendors expanding their lines. It’s very hard to find a brand-new vendor; existing vendors are really good at creating new products.” Richmond relies on trade magazines and finds many items through Faire.com—a wholesale website of independent makers. At Parcel, Laboz said they have eliminated all outside vendors; all the cards and paper sold are made in-house. (They also sell their products through Faire.com). Parcel’s brand is a mixture of modern and vintage. As far as best-sellers, Laboz said, “What works best for us is a little more heartfelt, sentimental, and nostalgic. We try to keep modern by touching on some updated phrasing or colors. We can acknowledge trends in subtle ways, but people look to us for the symbolic and sentimental. We don’t do overly cheeky, crass, political, or anything with foul language. We are touching on a lot of references from the past with our imagery. We do a lot with zodiac, tarot, constellations. We’ll embrace a trend when it applies to us—our younger customers are really into that. We have supportive imagery that makes us special in that category. We give a nod to what’s going on in the world in a subtle way—people look at our cards as more artful or subtle. Often people keep our cards as art—[we] do small art prints.”
Marty Garrison, owner of Paisley and Paper in Greenville, S.C., is noticing a few trends in her market: “Personalization is still key; desire for environmentally friendly paper; more color and custom logos in wedding suites; bringing together all pieces of a wedding suite, and artwork and stationery to make a cohesive brand for a couple’s big day,” she said. “These trends are making a big splash due to Instagram and Pinterest – so many ideas are compared and copied.” She noted their overall best-sellers include timeless products: “Note cards and notepaper that we can personalize. Our customers know the importance of writing a good thank you note for a gift, an interview, a dinner, or a party.” She noted she is always looking for new vendors. “We love our tried-and-true brands such as Arzberger, Crane, and Embossed Graphics, but sometimes we need to provide more of a selection. We love any stationery vendor who offer fine paper and beautiful designs. We scour the temporaries at Americas Mart, magazines and Faire all of the time. We also shop in other stationery stores when we are visiting different cities to see what they offer. Always keep your eyes open!”
Stationery retailers are quick to quash any rumors that handwritten correspondence is a thing of the past. “So many people feel like stationery and writing letters is dead. I always laugh because I’ve created two stores whose revenues definitely beg to differ!” Luna said. “Not everyone has to use and appreciate greeting cards, stationery, and own a collection of a million different fun pens. But for those of us who do, it brings so much joy and a non-digital aspect to our lives that is much needed.” She added, “Beautiful stationery and paper goods are a throwback to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who had to use those items before the early 2000s when email became the main mode of communication. I think it makes them feel good to put pen to paper and can appreciate the emotional value of sending a card in the mail to make someone feel special. For the younger generations who are just experiencing paper goods and greeting cards, it’s a whole new experience that is exciting and tactile.”