In the story "To the Letter" in our September 2012 issue, we visited Chandra Greer at Greer, her Chicago shop dedicated to all things paper. A purveyor of stationery, pens, pencils, and anything else you might need to keep in touch, Greer's love of the thank you note extends far beyond her financial interests. For her, sending a card is a matter of respect and a point of pride, and in this exclusive interview we hear why.
When should people really be sending paper notes and they're not?
I think the biggest loss when it comes to digital versus written communication is permanence and feeling. Until recently letters have formed the basis of family and personal history but now emailing, texting and social media have become the primary form of written communication. What happens is, first, these tend to be viewed as and treated as disposable and second, the thought and sometimes even poetic emotion one finds in letters does not often exist in the digital realm. So, I would love to see people take the time to reach out to friends and family with a penned communication of what they're doing, thinking, feeling, dreaming, wondering. I have saved every card and letter anyone has ever sent me which I started doing well before I could even imagine I would be in the business of cards and letters. Someday my children will share them with their children to help give them a sense of what crazy Grandma was all about.
In what circumstance must you send a thank you card?
A thank you note is obviously essential when one receives a tangible gift. However, I think we tend to forget that a person's time, concern, or advocacy is a gift as well and it's always appropriate to send a note in these situations, too. I know some think a thank you email or text is sufficient. I am not one of them. Any gift requires time, thought and resources and should be responded to with something that at least approximates the effort that gift represents.
Which trends are you seeing coming on in stationery? Personalized letterhead, more thank you notes, letterpress letterpress letterpress?
We're happy to report that stationery and greeting cards are very much alive. There is a perception that stationery is something previous generations cling to, but not so. The average age of our customers is mid-30s and though many think correspondence is a heavily female proposition, approximately 35% of our customers are men. Interestingly, when we started our business we had very few people request letter-sized sheets; now, we've had to add many options for letter-writers, most of whom are under 30. The other area we've seen amazing growth in is individual greeting cards and what we know is that people who take the time to send cards want them to be special in some way, beautifully letterpress-printed, conceptually-unique, etc.
Any up-and-coming stationery designers out there we should keep our eyes on? What's exciting you right now in paper goods?
There are so many talented stationery designers out there and I believe 110% in every single designer we carry; I think they're all brilliant. But I think if I had to single out one it would be Donovan Beeson of 16 Sparrows. Donovan and her partner, Kathy Zadrozny, are not only designers, they've founded an organization called the Letter Writers Alliance whose sole purpose is to promote the art of correspondence. They are doing more than anyone I know to make letter-writing exceedingly hip.
You sell loads of paper good, but is there a pen out there you'd also recommend? A pencil? What should we be writing all these thank you notes with?
My favorite pen in the shop is the Faber-Castell Ondoro—it's my personal writing instrument. And my favorite pencil is the iconic Palomino Blackwing. Both are sleek, sexy, high-performance quality.