On to the heart of the midwest to visit Joan of On Paper. She is working to make sure we don’t lose the human touch as we continue to embark on a world that is ever more digital.
On Paper was created to conserve the love of paper during the digital age. When it opened in 1997 the digital age was just beginning to take hold. The mission was to further the commitment to the written word, on paper. If anything our mission has only gotten stronger and changed little over the last thirteen year. The store is very tactile and the design is all about texture. From brick walls to a distressed wood floor it features different surfaces with peeled away layers. It is, of course a metaphor- strengthened by the underlying color palette of white on white- a bare canvas so to speak- but really, a blank piece of paper.
The store has always featured both national brands (Crane’s, Chronicle Books, Kate Spade to name a few) along side tiny, small and medium sized independent businesses. I feel that a mix is important in order to reach a broader audience. It also helps distinguish the unique qualities of hand made work. A major portion of the store is devoted to cards and many are handmade or made in boutique print shops across North America and Europe. One of the founding principles was to offer a marketplace for indie card designers to sell their work. This was before Etsy or any online marketplace existed.
We also have a beautiful collection of handmade Italian leather photo albums and journals. These books are made by artisans that come from families that have been making books since the Italian Renaissance. In Italy, this craft is still wide spread, but in the U.S. it is really tapering off. Even though these books are not the great sellers they once were, I feel strongly about maintaining their presence in my store. It speaks to craft, impeccable quality and integrity behind a handmade ware.
Being a retail brick and mortar vs. a online retail setting was never an option for me personally. My professional background encompasses over 20 years in retail and specifically in visual merchandising and store design. So for me so much of the concept was about creating a shopping experience, not just a place to buy things. One of my greatest compliments is that rarely a day goes by without someone admiring the store and how beautiful it is. Never get tired of hearing that! Never!! 😉 On Paper is located in an area of Columbus called the Short North. It is the arts district in town and I intentionally targeted this neighborhood to place the business. It is a vibrant community that is thriving and growing- filled with independently owned shops, galleries and restaurants. It is one of the few shopping areas in the country that can boast “No Chains”. Starbucks opened for a brief stint but closed as the local latte of choice was from the local barista across the street. It is a community that embraces the arts and really understands our product. In some areas the notion of an $8 card would be unheard of but people appreciate fine workmanship, quality and uniqueness.
I went to art school and know many artists. It is a challenging life and I feel it is important for all of us to support artists when we can. It is hard to place a dollar figure on creativity. Especially for people who are not artists or designers! Artists need a venue to support themselves, refine their craft and share their talents with others. I am continually amazed at the level of talent out there. Etsy and similar platforms have been an incredible breakthrough for integrating artistry and commercialism. As a buyer, it has been a great resource for finding talent, though the majority of my buying is still done at trade shows.
Our product assortment has really changed over the years. With an interest in paper waning, we’ve expanded in to jewelry and personal accessories; scarves, candles, even perfume. Even in these categories I focus on small indie businesses- fair trade companies and product from the Midwest, when possible.
737 North High Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215