One Last Caleb in the Halls

One of the things I’m going to miss most about this shop is that we’re in our eclectic building with mazes of hallways and stairs and ramps and elevators. It took me a while to figure out all the turns, but one of my favourite things to do is to wander the halls with Caleb, and now, for just a few short months, the new baby.

These hallways have been a lifesaver on stormy or cold winter days, a place to get out and stretch our legs, but also they’ve been a source of excitement and fun and adventure. There are signs all over the place people have put up, directing them to their own unit with arrows and directions, and I’ve bumped into delivery guys all the time lost or asking for directions. Stairs and freight elevators and ramps and drainage holes and all sorts of people.

I remember when Caleb was just a little guy, and he had started walking quite early, and he would casually plod along the hallways, occasionally stopping to look in doors. People wouldn’t see me just a dozen steps ahead or behind and they would be delighted or confused and come out into the hallway to laugh and see who this little baby was in his onesie and stripey shoes, walking along.

And now he’s tearing along up and down and around me in circles. Tea in hand, baby on back, wandering through these halls.

Caleb’s favourite thing to do, is to hover and loiter around the bicycle repair shop. There’s a lovely and funny dog there (the only reason why I acquiesce to this), but Caleb’s greatest hope is that they’ll be repairing the bicycles out in the hall. He’s too shy to actually go look into the workshop, but every once in a while they have a bike out by the door, and someone or a few guys are out there inspecting and using tools and spraying things. They’re all super nice there, but of course Caleb is a bit too shy to actually go up to them, and just wants to supervise.

Even after everyone has gone back into the repair shop, and I’ve finally dragged him away, he continues to ask if we should stick around, or go back and see what’s going on. “Do you think we should go back, mama? Do you think we should go back and see? Now?”

 

***

We’re down to nearly one month left in this place. It’s surreal and a bit scary. It’s very exciting, and I love how everyone who comes into the shop says: “amazing! I’m so excited for you guys! Can’t wait! This is going to be fabulous!”Ā 

But it’s also a little bit of Jon getting off the phone and saying: “Liz your sink in the back of the studio shop is going to cost me $800 just to get the drawings and get the permit and that doesn’t even count actually buying the sink or having the plumber come and do the plumbing or having contractor install it.” We need to wash out pens, Jon.

There’s no denying that our shop and family and staff-family are growing,* although sometimes I wonder about the growth of a business and the joys of running a small and intimate business.** With all of this growth are huge learning curves in every way for us.

The other day someone commented on the Wonder Pens Instagram account asking why I don’t name all of the items in my photos, making it easier for people to buy these things. I think he was a little frustrated that it was so hard to figure out what was in my photos so he could look up more details on them. At first, I didn’t really have an answer – he did sort of have a point about how I’m running a stationery shop, and I should be selling all of my stationery items that I’m so excited about.

As we grow, I know I need to be more and more “strategic” about our social media and how we post things, and I know especially now as we approach this big move, the main shop moving to the west end, and our new, smaller studio shop opening sometime mid-summer (everyone please continue your nightly rain dances and/or petitions to city hall to get us through permits and zoning), we’re sort of bulging forward into a new level of growth, and I need to be more thoughtful and intentional in how and what I post.

I can’t deny that gives me a little bit of the heebie jeebies to think I’m just “selling” you all the time – we found each other, I think, because we love stationery! And pens and paper and writing and fresh notebooks and the sound of something making a mark on a page. And yes, I know that I need to sell things to pay the staff and the rent and the diapers, but I guess I’m sort of hoping that those of you who follow along on our blog and Instagram are following our journey and growth and finding inspiration in seeing how we use things and finding new items that might spark something in your own writing or drawing. And if you happen to find something you need, that’s just terrific, because hopefully that transaction between us makes you happy and keeps the lights on here.

I hope you are indeed writing or drawing or note-taking with something, and while we’re always here with enthusiasm if you need something new to jump start your brain or to replace something broken or just to have a little fun, I hope that the stories we share here are more than just selling stuff. I’m optimistic enough that there is enough business to go around to last us another day, and if things start drying up, then I’ll have to try another strategy, or maybe it’ll be too late but boy, will we have had a fantastic run and a lot of stories to tell.

I know I’ve hit a rough patch that I need to re-navigate if the people who are following me are getting frustrated – the more and more I do this, the more I see that there’s a science to cracking SEOs and algorithms (no idea, don’t ask me), but an art to telling a story.

We are telling our stories about the handwritten word not dying but in fact coming alive on the page as more and more folks across all demographics and ages are finding writing again, and the story of small family businesses surviving and growing in big cities with abundant, abundant red tape and massively inflating commercial rent, and the story of how I’m writing in my journals and on paper and in correspondence with treasured friends around the world.

I like the idea that despite distance and time and all the other things that might separate you from walking into our shop, I can wish you a Happy Chinese New Year, with a photo of beautiful stationery, because that’s what you and I both love, and that’s our wish for you – a happy new year or happy afternoon with coffee and some pens with ink and a few bright hours of sun. I don’t want to wish you a Happy Chinese New Year in order to sell you something.

Yes, of course social media is the place for showing off shiny new things and big and small announcements, but what we’re really trying to do is help people write again. Offering the supplies they need to write, and the inspiration to get the ink flowing. I want you to use the things you get from us! Or from anywhere. I want your leather to have patina on it, I want your notebooks to have crinkly pages, I want you to experience the deeply-satisfying thrill of an empty ink bottle.

Our story is that writing by hand can be personal and powerful and tactile and connect you to ideas and people, hopefully including us.

That’s all to say, as we grow we’re still figuring things out. I’m still figuring out how to balance telling our stories with helping you find what you need, but we are so glad for your support and friendship over these years that we’ve sprouted up from a fledgling shop with no sign*** on the window to trying to figure out the logistics of moving a warehouse with metal shelves that are tied together with rope.

 

 

*We’re still hiring! And who wouldn’t want to come work with us now, at this exact point in time, ready to pack up dozens (hundreds?) of boxes of paper and packing supplies and ink and stack and carry it all into and out of trucks and cars and across the city while supervising a dog and a cat running amok and possibly holding babies.

**While of course there is joy in running a small and intimate business, there are also significant joys in not working 7 days a week and 16 hours days and being able to go to a doctor’s appointment or have a baby without shutting down the shop and having any sort of extremely limited financial stability that comes with not running a teeny tiny operation where you’re sitting with your fingers crossed wondering if someone is going to walk through the door and buy something so you can go home and have dinner.

***Actually, we did have a sign at 906 Dundas West, despite several customers expressing concern that we didn’t. It was just a very small decal sign, not very well placed (by yours truly) low on the window, not visible to the street due to cars parked in front of the shop. The cost of replacing the current awning was truly astronomical for a small business, so we just lived with telling people on the phone to look for a faded “Global Travel” on the top. Learning curves.

12 Comments

  1. Bridget

    Great post Liz, and that photo of you and Wonderbaby smiling is precious! Iā€™m looking forward to the next chapter in this adventure.
    P.S. any info yet on the location of the new warehouse?

    • wonderpens

      She sure is one smiley baby! I’m looking forward to it as well, if I am quite nervous.

      Our new warehouse is going to be in Little Italy! šŸ™‚

  2. Maggie

    I love this post so, so much. I don’t live in Toronto, so I can’t stop in to your shop in person, but even the online side of Wonder Pens has always felt like a small family business to me. Getting orders from you, or emails from your customer service, even following your blog, I can always feel how much you love your mission and your customers. This store is a labour of love, and the writing and pen hobby communities are so lucky to have you.

    • wonderpens

      Thank you so much for your kind words! We are truly a family business, and having now run the shop for almost five years, and having gotten to know so many other independent businesses, I think there’s no better way to go in terms of being part of a community and …being human! We are so grateful for folks like you who have been following us along and supporting us every step of the way.

  3. Jim

    I’m going to be blunt – despite what the HR department would prefer – Indigo “sells”, Walmart “sells”, Wonderpens “introduces.” You and the team share products you’ve discovered, items you use and understand, items we may have only heard hints of. We can walk into the shop and speak to someone who’s actually used a Leuchterm1917. They can speak about the paper and how it will cope with a very wet nib. In an Indigo, you’re speaking to someone who knows the notebooks (“Leuchterm1917? A what?”) are “over there in the corner somewhere. ” I think you’ve “cracked the code.”

    I remember, ages ago, saying to my husband “you know, apparently there’s this little stationery store over on Dundas West and I’ve heard they carry TN products. Shall we pop over? Do we have time before we need to be at the airport?” Can’t wait to see the new place(s)!

    • wonderpens

      What a lovely thing to hear, truly. This is exactly what we dream of! A shop where you can come and see and pick up a notebook, and talk to someone who has used it and has opinions on which papers are best.

      And how funny your origin story of finding us! What a delight! I’m so glad you’ve found us, and that we’re a small part of your stationery adventures. I have very fond memories of our earliest days at 906 Dundas West, and it’s truly people like you who have followed us along on our own adventure that keep us here. How serendipitous the paths that lead us to new places and people. Can’t wait to have you visit again šŸ™‚

  4. Nadine

    I love your stories.

    Thanks to you, i write with beautiful pens every day. Thanks to you, I write cards to friends all over the world every week. Thanks to you, I have an astoundingly Beautiful leather portfolio and take it everywhere.

    Thank you very much for your inspiration with words and photos.

    • wonderpens

      Thank you so much! Your support means so much to me and our to everyone here in our shop. You have been with us a long while, and seen us on our journey, and it wouldn’t be the same without folks like you. Sending you all the best in Montreal!

  5. Alvin Ko

    That other dude is missing the point of social media – you guys have your website and shop to sell stuff. The rest of us read your blog and follow on IG because it’s cool to sorta kinda get to know people who really like stuff that we like. Keep up the good work and don’t worry too much about the haters. So happy to hear you’re growing even bigger – you deserve to see this with all of your hard work and clear mission.

    • wonderpens

      Thanks so much for the support! So much of the Instagram, but especially the blog is about sharing for the sake of sharing (and maybe too much sometimes!) – the behind the scenes, and thoughts, and news about the family, and wondering about how it all passes so quickly. We’re a tiny shop in Toronto, but I’m always so delighted to discover that folks from around the world have somehow stumbled across us because of a shared nerdiness, and that’s truly the best part of this community. Your words are much appreciated šŸ™‚

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