[Tom Biederbeck] Sought-after copies of the legendary, short-lived Flair magazine from 1950 … a hand-cranked paper shredder … exquisite first-edition artist books … lovingly used retro staplers: All co-exist amicably at San Francisco’s Press: Works on Paper, an intensely curated shop where the bar for inclusion is purposely set high. “Of every single item, every little notecard, we ask, ‘Would this be something we would want and cherish?’” says proprietor Paulina Nassar, who operates the store with her husband Nick Sarno.
On a sun-dappled street in the city’s Mission neighborhood, the compact and airy space is my destination on a perfect spring day. Entering it is like stepping into a fantasy where the only things that matter in life are the stuff that resides on our desks, shelves and walls — pure joy for the paper-impassioned.
Beneath intricate cut-paper art by Tahiti Pehrson, on exhibit since the shop’s May 13 opening, Nassar talks about the owners’ unique merchandising approach, one that allows stationery supplies, vintage typewriters, Polish movie posters, handmade Japanese papers and rare first editions to harmonize intimately. She articulates their focus simply, as “design, beauty, use and uselessness.” In person, the experience reveals itself as an artful process of discovery.
“Even the furnishings here are handmade,” she notes. “The look is vintage, but it’s all designed and built by a friend who’s a wonderful carpenter.”
The approach helps explain the wide range of goods, united under a singular vision, that are stocked at the store. “People have everything, and now they want to do a lot of editing in their lives,” Nassar observes. “They’re asking, ‘What do I really want to read? What do I really want to do?’”
Originally from the Bay Area, Nassar returned to San Francisco to open the shop with her husband, who had been in small-press publishing in Chicago. The dynamics and desires of their local customer base are not lost on the couple. “We find it so interesting that in a tech-savvy city like San Francisco, there’s this funny dichotomy,” she says. “This is a place where everyone has to have the latest digital device … but people also want to make their own books and paper, to put their personal stamp on their lives. We see this as a natural response to the changing world and especially to the role of print communication.”
The owners’ intention is to intensify the experience by offering classes in bookbinding and papermaking. As I talk with Nassar, she greets customers by name and tells them about the upcoming DIY sessions. “We also carry a big section of ‘make and do’ books,” she reminds. (A selection can be seen online.)
Which is to say that the merch at Press: Works on Paper is not for everyone. That’s perfectly OK with the proprietors. “What does it mean to be cool hunting in packs, anyway?” Nassar asks rhetorically. Yet she acknowledges there is an associated hazard involved in their extremely selective approach to curating the shop. “We would never want people to think that the things in here are ‘precious.’ We feel these things are to be used; they should be roughed up. ‘Things’ aren’t special because you’re not touching them. They only become special when you make something of them.”
I come away from my visit with gorgeous letterpress cards, Danish paper mobiles depicting Viking sailing ships and a long list of must-have books, including a monograph by the cartoon-cum-folk artist Norman Pettingill. What will you discover?