The golden days of the stapler, & the places one might find them

[Kseniya Thomas] Our last local independent office supply store is closing soon. It is difficult to decide which madeleine-bite of nostalgia to taste first: Maybe for a time when small American towns had large millwork factories that sat on railroad tracks on which trains coursed by at regular intervals? Or for a time when salesmen made reports on pre-printed index cards, when pen sets were wonderful and welcome gifts …

… and when most everything was adamantly analogue? Or maybe for a time when the best way for a business to ensure its longevity was to befriend — and make itself indispensable — to its customers? Since I can’t decide, I’ll indulge in all of them, the whole period — a time whose bright comet tail of a heyday was already fading away as I was beginning to notice it. The heyday I am alluding to, friends, is the heyday of the stapler.

Line’s Office Supply in Carlisle, Penns., is, for a few more weeks, located in the former Middle Atlantic Millwork building, an enormous brick structure that now houses a party store, a defunct fly-fishing store and a wholesale company. The building sits in what must have been a 19th century industrial park, with a ribbon mill, lumber yard and several other ancient edifices of industry nearby.

The store itself starts small; the few little rooms in front belie the vastness of the warehouse and storerooms behind. Melvin Line, the shop’s late owner, was not one to limit the choices of his clients, or to throw anything away. In his more than thirty years in business,  through collecting and buying out the stock of other closing office-supply businesses, he amassed a collection of office (and other) supplies that filled more than 2000 square feet of the Millwork building. He stocked hang tags in six sizes, gold stars for notaries and good grades, ink in all shades (including Persian Rose and Emerald Green), pre-printed forms of all kinds, and an astonishing array of Rolodex and Rolodex accessories.

Line’s was an institution — one, I confess, in which I had never set foot before I noticed the bright pink sign announcing the shop’s closing. It may be a good thing it took me so long, for I couldn’t help taking home several large helpings of supplies from those tall green shelves and spending hours looking behind boxes, opening long-shut drawers and hunting for pink legal pads from the ’50s (which, sadly, I have yet to uncover, though a friend assures me they’re there).

Several shopping trips yielded colored pencils, a very bossy box of Listo Leads, boxes of Shaeffer’s Skrips ink, rulers for graphic artists with handy picas-to-inch conversions, airmail envelopes and, what is now my pride and joy, though I bought it entirely for the box:

I never did have a thing for staplers, and do not — even though I work with paper every day — have anything to staple. But Staple Sam and Staple Sal won me over. I also picked up what feels like a five-pound Bostich, gunmetal green, also in a very attractive box. How can one not wish it were still possible to have a favorite brand of staple? Others must miss those golden days as well; I’ve added these and these to my wishlist of geek-chic.

Up until his death this past August, Mr. Line was visiting a nearby factory (one of Carlisle’s last) to take inventory of their supply closet and replace those used-up items with supplies from his vast stores. His daughter, who is in charge of liquidating the warehouse, told me that even after the big-box office stores came to town, customers continued to come to Line’s for things they had used for years and couldn’t find anywhere else. That attention to detail and care for one’s customers is the real loss, more so than the admittedly great supplies of yesteryear.

Try to keep the small-town stores in mind when you’re shopping this holiday season, regardless of where you live. Look for the sole-proprietors, the hand-makers, the people near you or at your fingertips online who care about what they make or source and sell. Your town or city may not have a place like Line’s — they’re fading all the time — but if it does, count your lucky stars, and hurry over.

Kseniya Thomas is the owner of Thomas-Printers, a commercial letterpress shop in Carlisle, Penn. She’s also the co-founder of Ladies of Letterpress, a professional organization for printers with almost 800 members. The first-ever Ladies of Letterpress Conference is scheduled to take place Aug. 5–7, 2011, in Asheville, N.C., and Kseniya encourages early registration.

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Comments (4)

  1. Posted by Donnaraye on 12.17.10 at 1:12 pm

    Great article. I do remember a lot of that stuff and also a time when small stores catered to their customers. I remember going to the only clothing store in my small town and being able to take something home “on approval” without paying for it – if I liked it I would come back and pay for it – if not I brought it back. The “approval” process was documented on a record probably purchased at a store like Line’s. Oh and I do have some pink legal pads too.

  2. Posted by Paperlover on 12.17.10 at 2:58 pm

    I recently moved to a very small town and do all the business I can there. Haven’t found 3 different brands of staples, though. Wow!

  3. Posted by Melissa of craftgasm on 12.17.10 at 4:40 pm

    I’m so sad I didn’t know about this place before Thanksgiving! We drove within 20 miles of there on the way to and from my family’s house in New York. Do you know when specifically they’re closing? We don’t have a car in DC, but we could push up the next scheduled rental…

  4. Posted by Kseniya on 12.22.10 at 10:12 pm

    Melissa–It is still open, but quite picked over. An auction of all the remaining goods, fixtures, etc., is taking place Dec. 30th.

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