Reinvention of a Fountain Pen Purveyor
He spent the last day manning a cash register for a line of bargain hunters as well as sad-eyed regulars who were picking up the remaining shards of merchandise strewn on the higgledy-piggledy shelves at 50 percent off.
Mr. Gutman, it turns out, is transforming Court Street Office Supplies into an online retailer as well, delivering and mailing stationery out of his 7,000-square-foot warehouse two miles away in a scruffy industrial slice of Gowanus, but dropping some of the services he once offered, like photocopying, faxing and that mainstay of many a stationery store, a notary. Those were services essential to poorer litigants who maneuvered the courts on their own.
It’s not news that what is happening to mom-and-pop stationery stores is also happening to small stores that sell books, clothing, toys, gifts, hardware. The trend partly explains the changeover into chain-store thoroughfares of once idiosyncratic shopping streets like Broadway on the Upper West Side.
Ted Potrikus, president of the Retail Council of New York State, which represents 2,000 merchants, identifies the problem as “the store in the palm of our hand — your cellphone.”
“People don’t want to spend their time downtown looking for a place to park — they’d rather do it online,” he said. He added that rising rents in popular downtowns have also been a factor in the shuttering of small and even big stores. With stationery, online shopping and digitization are such powerful trends that Staples closed almost 300 of its roughly 2,150 stores in North America between 2014 and 2016.
Still, for those who work and live around Court Street, the shift is causing heartache.
“It’s a tragedy, a sad day because there are lots of items you don’t find in places like Staples — rubber stamps and ribbons for adding machines,” said one shopper, John McGill, 70, who operates Two for the Pot, a whole-bean coffee and imported teas shop on Clinton Street. “Besides, I like these guys. I will miss them. They’re knowledgeable. They’re friendly and some of them are pretty funny when we banter over the counter.”
George Jacobs, 71, a computer programmer who came over from Bushwick, said Court Street stocked hard-to-get 11-by-17-inch engineering paper that he uses to make flow charts and drawings on his HP Plotter, a type of machine that has essentially been replaced by large-format inkjet printers.