Today we’re shining the spotlight on The Stationery Station, a paper + gift shop based in Highland Park, Illinois celebrating 40 years in business! We sat down with the owner, Sheryl Oberman, to learn about the shop and how everything got started.
I have loved paper and party planning since I was a child, watching my mom, who had some flair, create accessories for events she would host. She also planned a beautiful wedding for me! My college degree is in teaching high school English, with a minor in Rhetoric – so you can see where this is going. I took that background and love for paper several steps beyond. Totally by coincidence a friend, who also loved paper, went to a local shop to buy party goods for me since I had just recently moved to this town and had a newborn baby and was having a party. I knew little about our neighborhood and could not yet get out to explore. She came back and told me the lady was selling her business. Without blinking an eye I said, “let’s buy it!”. The shop was in a converted old home and I suggested the name Stationery Station and my partner agreed, with the stipulation that we use a station master as our logo. We had a lamp post out front so we hung our sign and suddenly became stationers!!
Our husbands were agreeable and the former shop owner mentored us for a few months. My partner was pregnant at the time and once her child was born we alternated days and our babies napped in a crib we added upstairs. When the babies were a bit older they sometimes crawled around the carpeted floors as we worked with customers! My daughter once chewed on a package of napkins. Later on, the kids were with day care, our families, or preschool. After about 3 years we split up and I moved the shop to the main street a block away.
About 20 years ago I opened a second store in Chicago with someone who had worked for me as a teenager. I licensed my name to her and she had the shop for several years until she started a family and moved back to our town. 16 years ago I moved the shop a few doors away to our current location. It was 2 shops so that our retail merchandise could be in one room and our custom invitations in a smaller room. This allowed us to offer a quieter area to give total attention to our customers with a more personal touch.
Two years ago I recognized that children’s invitations were not selling well and had become more of an online item. They were displayed on 2 units so that was my cue to downsize! We linked up on our website with a few large vendors that sell the kids’ items and that is working out nicely. The “old” store still offers cool desk accessories, leather items, notepads, and my favorite – ribbon and wrap! The custom room has imprintables along with a few other related items but primarily has many, many invitation albums, as well as loose samples from Smock, Bella Figura and other vendors. Brides, in particular, like to view loose samples, and we also show these on a screen and in boxes so that their customization options are evident.
I enjoy creating invitations and bringing a customer’s vision to reality. It’s rewarding to me to know that someone puts our store on their list of places to go on any day. My education and knowledge of proper etiquette and grammar, combined with our design sensibility, plays a part in our status of being one of the finest stationers on our North Shore.
I believe that being able to open a shop 40 years ago and calling it our own was and is special. The freedom to be able to pursue a course that was never clearly my dream but became my love is genuinely amazing to me. Women at this time were teachers, as I was initially, doctors, attorneys, and so on… yet owning a shop seemed rare and slightly difficult to explain to the bank. One last love about the store is to be still creating an invitation or even wrapping a gift for our customers and seeing them genuinely thrilled! A recent customer just wrote me a wonderful note, and these testimonials and calls make us feel respected and rewarded. It is a heartwarming business and our goal is to fulfill a customer’s vision and offer them our valued advice.
Does your store support any charities or special causes? We offer a donation or place an ad nearly every week with several charities, schools, and local or needy organizations. At the time of our 35th anniversary, we donated a portion of our sales to a group that supports women getting into the workforce. This year I am considering other options. One of the retail lines I carry is called Monkey Business and we sell their beaded animals and a few bowls made from phone wires. They are in South Africa and the company benefits the women who make these. Many of our customers who have traveled to Africa recognize these and buy them or comment on how wonderful it is that they are so well made and the women reap the benefits.
If someone is visiting your shop, what are the other essential stops in your neighborhood? Our town has wonderful cultural features. One is actually across one of our town’s main streets in the next town but it is literally 5-10 minutes away. This is the Chicago Botanic Gardens. They feature exhibits throughout the year, events take place there and it is truly a beautiful, cultivated sight. I run there in the warm weather on one of their tree lined paths! Another is the wonderful Ravinia Festival. It is an outdoor performance venue featuring major symphonies, renown musicians and performers. There are children’s features throughout the year as well. Tickets may be purchased for a covered pavilion or many, many people from all over the Chicago area come to have casual or elaborate picnics on the lawn. Restaurants are plentiful in all price ranges and it is an amazing feature in our town.
Since Highland Park is located on Lake Michigan we are very excited to have stunning beaches. One was redone recently with walking trails, bluffs, rock formations and a lovely glass building in which they offer children’s classes. Last June I made myself a birthday party on the boardwalk (luckily on a beautiful evening) and was joined by my amazing staff (see below).
In my shop, I love my ribbons and wrap. I do custom gift wrapping and was chosen and flown to NYC along with 7 other people a few years ago to be in Scotch brand gift wrap contest. It was very exciting and although I did not win, being chosen as one of 8 was very cool!
Our current favorite trend is really a trend I was naively offering my customers and yet had little knowledge of 35 or more years ago! I love combining letterpress with foil stamping. It adds just the right amount of flair when done subtly. In our early years we worked with a man who owned a foil stamping company, and since he lived in Chicago we became friendly with him and he would print our stock for note cards or invitations. At that time, we carried Crane and a vendor called Fante. Once in a while, we would need to go to his home to pick up an order and he would show us his machinery which in those days used individual pieces of lead. He showed us how he pressed these pieces of lead into the machine! Aha! Letterpressing! He would remind us to limit the copy on an invite so he would not run out of letters!
Many thanks to Sheryl for giving us a glimpse inside her shop – and congratulations on 40 years in business! Here’s to many more!