The heart of Harvard square: Bob Slate

“Bob Slate Stationer is a magnet for Harvard students–and college students in general. After all, Boston is crammed to the gills with colleges and universities.”

It’s been called, “the miracle on Brattle Street”…

Harvard Square pen and stationary lovers had reason to celebrate one morning in autumn 2011, when Bob Slate Stationer returned to Cambridge under new ownership. The iconic Cambridge institution left the area in March 2011 when co-owners Mallory and Justin Slate closed the three Cambridge Locations.Their father, Bob had opened the store in the 1930s to supply the paper needs of Cambridge residents, Harvard students and faculty. With declining sales as a consequence of both the tech age and big box stores and their own advancing ages, the brothers held a giant inventory sale. Soon the doors to Bob Slate locations were about to be shut for good, when in walked Laura Donahue, a self-described “pen addict”. “I was horrified to find the store closing,” she said. “I thought to myself that we just can’t let this one go.” Surrounded by devastated patrons like herself, she marched to the back of the store, to inquire about purchasing it.

 

Donahue was first introduced to the store in 1981, when she was a freshman at Harvard. “It was like a treasure hunt every time I was there,” Laura said. “This place became my Cheers; a place where I went to feel good, enjoying pretty things and friendly service.”

 

Now 20 years later she stood, pen in hand, signing the papers to buy Bob Slate. She reopened the store at 30 Brattle St. “I’m deeply honored that the Slate family has entrusted their name to me”.

 

To keep customer service top-notch, Donohue has rehired five former staffers, including a 28-year veteran. Coupled with new staff, who bring in fresh ideas to keep the product lines current….it’s an unbeatable combination. Together they bring expertise to design, sourcing, and technical which helps consumers understand the different ink and paper types which when combined give the perfect “look”.

Of course their product selection is a huge draw:distinctive wraps , elegant stationery, fine writing instruments, journals sourced locally and from around the world, elegant engraved papers, delicate letterpress and vibrant watercolors, blank and greeted cards and earth friendly products. Rossi transitions well into almost all of these categories.

 

Of course being in a college city, journals and writing notebooks are a big draw; ”Based in the heart of Harvard Square, we have a real writing-oriented audience, so the journals sell quite well. Anything with the marbled or Florentine prints sell very quickly, with the letterpress prints becoming new favorites.

 

The store is quite festive right now with their beautiful display of Rossi boxed Christmas notes and cards near the front window where one can gaze out into Harvard square. In addition there is a vivid display of letterpress and seasonal decorative papers. “The Rossi individual sheets of gift wrap are seen as a real treat for customers at the holidays — many love to complete a favored gift with the hand-marbled prints”, states Laura.

slate cardsThis time of year can be quite challenging for a busy retailer.” The holidays present a host of challenges, from betting on which styles will be successful in a given year, to estimating quantities and volumes, to finding creative ways to utilize space in the store to present the additional merchandise to its best advantage, to maintaining staffing levels with the appropriate expertise to answer technical product questions. It is very tiring but also exhilarating to hear the customers rave about our excellent product selection.”

“We hear from customers that they are desperate to find quality & style, and don’t mind paying an extra dollar or two to have paper worth writing on. Our customers are constantly sneaking open the stationery boxes to feel the paper inside, and are very clear about their preferences for quality paper. Rossi provides us a great offering to customers. Thankfully, Rossi is maintaining its standards unlike some other small vendors who feel compelled to compromise their quality to meet the demands of the big box stores.

Is she still happy she happy she bought the store? ” Buying this store has absolutely been the right decision for me. It is an iconic brand that stands for quality and distinctive products and quirky individuality! — I hope that I can do it and the family justice.

·         30 Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-547-1230 www.bobslatestationer.com

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