Company Logo for St. Paul Book and Stationery
When T and I met, one of the things that I knew guaranteed that we would be in love forever was the fact that we had the same kind of enthusiasms. Some people drool over cars or furniture; T and I drooled over office supplies.
For much of this, I blame St. Paul Book and Stationery, an enormous place on County Road E, not terribly far from the home of my youth in St. Paul suburbs.
You know how these days people go into a store and tap the keys on computers? In those days, it was typewriters–manual, electric, and–at the top of the heap–IBM Selectric. But there were so many other things. Different kinds of papers (bond, erasable, drafting, carbon, onionskin). Different kind of rulers (for many years, my pride and joy was a 6″ aluminum ruler divided not into silly 1/8″ markings, but with superior 0.1″ markings).
SPBS had desks, filing cabinets, folders, labels, all kind of good stuff! And I loved it all.
I fell in love with other stationers–especially those near universities (I still visit college bookstores when the opportunity presents). Clever folders still turn me on. When I was in Germany and England in 1983, I would wander from shop to shop in search of cool things. When I lived in Chicago, Crate & Barrel often had interesting stuff (though, being imported from Europe, it often didn’t play well with US paper).
The last decent stationery store I was in was in a town in western Wisconsin. I had gone to that town to interview for a job, and I needed something to write with, so I bought a small pad and a decent mechanical pencil there. I got the job, and four months later, after I moved to town, I went in one day and they remembered me! But that store has been gone for twelve or more years now, swallowed by the Big Box retailers.
Staples and Office Depot and their ilk serve a function. But it’s not the same. In the old days, you could talk to people who knew their stuff–and there was variety. Does anyone even make onion-skin paper anymore? I’m quite sure that erasable typing bond is no longer. Fountain-pen ink, sold in bottles, is a specialty product that requires ordering on the web.
The other day I almost bought a small pocket calendar to use for scheduling. Almost. If the kind I used for decades could still be found (academic year, blue weekly pages, soft brown cover, small enough to fit in a shirt pocket without peeking out, wire-bound) I might have. But I didn’t.
T and I still visit office supply places on occasion, but they’re not quite the same. That’s not all bad–I wouldn’t give up computers for typewriters, even Correcting Selectrics. No way.
But I do miss them.