You’ve founded an entire business out of your love for pencils. What sparked your love for them?
I grew up in a creative household and have always had an affinity for the pencil because they're easy and inexpensive to collect and have such a simple function. I've always done the majority of my work in pencil and started learning more about them just out of curiosity--they sort of became my "thing" organically. I just love how tactile they are--they smell like something, feel like something and even sound like something. The design of a pencil also often says a lot about the place it comes from, which makes them a really wonderful thing to look for while traveling.
When you first started out as an online shop how did you go about finding vendors?
It was hard in the beginning because I had a wish list of brands I wanted to stock but a lot of them didn't take me seriously when I reached out. I started looking for smaller, more niche brands and had better luck with them. I'm really interested in pencils from a history standpoint so researching their history has led me down some pretty interesting paths. There are a lot of pencils still floating around the internet that aren't actually made anymore, so it was especially hard in the beginning figuring out what's actually available these days. So many manufacturers really just make pencils for their local market, so they can often be hard to find and even harder to convince them to export their product to us.
What was the turning point when you realized that you could turn this interest into your dream job?
To be entirely honest, there wasn't ever really a moment I realized that it could actually be a real job. In fact, I think I'm still kind of in denial about this actually being my real job. It had always just been a fun fantasy and then I woke up one day during a really horrible first winter in New York and thought I might as well give it a try. Even then I wasn't so sure it would work, especially because there weren't really any other shops I could compare it to. It was truly a leap of faith--from a made up dream job to a real, functioning shop.
In 2015 you opened your first shop in Manhattan, what were the main differences you experienced running a physical space as opposed to an online store?
An online store is important because it's accessible to everyone but there's just no way to replicate the magic that happens in a physical store. Being able to share suggestions with customers and tell them stories in person is the best part of the experience in our shop, and though we try to keep things playful and informative online, the physical store is different because it's like stepping in to our own little creative universe. I'm a very analog person, so navigating all of the internet stuff is a lot less natural for me than interacting with people in an actual shop--there's been a big learning curve with all of the tech knowledge require to run an online store.
In addition to pencils, you’ve expanded you merchandise to include notebooks, stationary, erasers, and most notably stickers. Can you tell us about the sticker room at the CW shop?
In 2017 we moved into a much larger shop on Orchard Street and around the same time, I'd started daydreaming about opening a second, very tiny shop just for stickers. When we found our new space it made sense to build it in as CW Sticker Emporium, a tiny surprise room. Stickers evoke the same sort of childhood nostalgia pencils do and are also something that exist all over the world in so many forms--we stock everything from practical organizational stickers to artist commissioned stickers to old school Mrs. Grossmans sheets. It was truly a selfish endeavor, because I just really love stickers and wanted a place where all of the good ones could exist together.
You also wrote a book, The Pencil Perfect, can you tell us more about this experience?
It had always been part of my plan to write a book about pencil history at some point so I was really excited when Gestalten, the publisher, came to me with some ideas. I love to write but I'm not naturally a writer, so it was a challenging process translating stories I'm used to telling all day at work into something that makes sense in print. The whole book covers the history of the pencil from the original discovery of graphite to today and is broken up into stories with illustrations (done in graphite, of course) to make them a little more anecdotal and accessible to a reader who isn't already interested in the minutiae of pencil history.
Favorite spots in the city to journal, sketch, or do a cross word puzzle?
The Rose Reading Room in the main branch of the New York Public Library is my favorite space in the whole city to do a solitary activity, it's so quite and beautiful. I also like spending time at the Housing Works bookstore on Crosby Street and spend many lazy Friday afternoons at the Wing. Seward Park, right by our shop is also wonderful. There are plenty of shady benches and always a lot of neighborhood activity to watch.
CW Pencil Enterprise | 15 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002