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Videos: Craft Store in Lebanon, Stationery Store in White River Junction Buck the Trends

  • A stationery and memo display at Post in downtown White River Junction, Vt., on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ellen Blake, left, and Bonnie Lawlor, both of Norwich, shop at Post in downtown White River Junction, Vt., on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. Lawlor frequents Pam's Post and tries to bring a new friend into the store each visit. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Pam Post, owner of Post in downtown White River Junction, Vt., on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Scratch makerspace co-owner Jessica Giordani, of Lebanon, jokes with Craft Night attendees on Thursday, May 4, 2017, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Patti Stone, of Hartford, Vt., and Dalaina Carolson, of Lebanon, work on projects during Craft Night at Scratch makerspace on Thursday, May 4, 2017, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Scratch makerspace co-owner Karen Zook chats with fellow Craft Night attendees while working on a story display on Thursday, May 4, 2017, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Videos by Geoff Hansen, Valley News Photo Editor, and Maggie Cassidy
Saturday, June 03, 2017

Karen Zook and Jessica Giordani, two of the three owners of the Lebanon craft store Scratch, love the White River Junction stationery store Post.

And Pam Post, who opened Post in the Dreamland Building last summer shortly before Scratch debuted on the Lebanon Mall, loves Scratch.

The only problem? With virtually the same hours of operation, they never get to shop at each other’s stores.

Such is the life of small-business owners.

“We’re working on that,” Zook said in a recent interview at Scratch, when asked when she finds time to sleep. “We’re scheduling that one in.”

The business hours, pedestrian-friendly locations in core Upper Valley downtowns and hip, colorful aesthetics aren’t the only similarities between the two shops.

 

 

Both the Scratch crew, which includes business partner Travis Griffin, and Post are making a go of it in a time when you’re at least as likely to hear about a small, locally owned business closing as you are to hear about one opening, which experts attribute in large part to pressures from online retailers and changing consumer habits.

More than 25 such stores closed in the Upper Valley from 2012 through 2016, according to a Valley News tally. This year, closings include Enfield Hardware and a slew of general stores from Chelsea to Brownsville.

What’s more, Scratch and Post have resisted the crush of the Digital Age, not only by opening brick-and-mortar stores, but also by what they’re selling: slow, tangible fun — including crafts to be made and yarn to be knitted at Scratch, and a bevy of paper goods for writing, doodling and sending at Post — in a fast-paced, computer-friendly consumer environment.

“Let’s stop the glorification of busy,” Post says in its online description. “Come, slow down, re-connect.”

 

 

All three women say they’re finding a market of shoppers, young and old, in search of old-school, low-key activities. Scratch, located in the former Shoetorium space, also offers subscriptions to its makerspace downstairs, where they can access crafting tools, sewing machines and storage lockers.

Zook, 33, said there are a lot of people who “come in and say, ‘I’ve always wanted to learn’ ” a particular craft, or “who say, ‘I’m just not crafty.’ ”

“And we say, ‘Wrong!’ ” cracked Giordani, 37.

“(It’s) just the chance to get away from your phone a little bit,” Zook added later. “I mean, I have my face stuck in my phone plenty, but I have it stuck in my phone less when I’m knitting.”

Post, 57, expressed similar sentiments in an interview at her store, which styles its name “POST.” with a period online and in its marketing materials.

“Something that I’ve loved most is when young people are interested — children, teenagers who we just think are totally absorbed by their phones or whatever,” she said. “And it’s not always like that.”

Scratching the Itch To Make Something New

Zook’s and Giordani’s search for sleep stems not only from running Scratch, but the steps it took to get there and the projects they’ve taken on since.

Zook, Giordani, and Griffin were friends living in Connecticut last year when they decided it was time for a change. All makers in their own right — Zook and Giordani are knitters and fiber artists, Griffin is a painter — they “schemed to find a way to make it our job,” Giordani said.

Zook, a 2005 Dartmouth College graduate, was on a trip to the Upper Valley in January 2016 with Griffin, her graduate school classmate who is married to Giordani, when they investigated Lebanon.

“We found (the Shoetorium building) and we looked in the windows and it was cold and it was dark, and we were like, ‘This is a dumb narrow space and we could never do anything with it, the lighting would be weird, there’s windows upfront and nothing in the back, it’s a weird hallway, why would we ever (rent it),’ and then we totally did,” Zook said, laughing.

The women said that, despite the initial bad reaction, they fell in love with the space once they were able to look inside. Joining the downtown Lebanon community was key, with great business neighbors on all sides, such as nearby Omer and Bob’s.

Together, Zook and the couple moved into a historic farmhouse not far away, opening the store last September.

“We combined two houses — that’s three adults and two children and three dogs and nine birds, and all the mess that comes with all of that, and we loaded up two U-Hauls and drove everything up here,” Zook said. “It was two really crazy days. … I remember at one point standing here having a meltdown about not being able to find an Allen wrench.”

On top of retail sales and subscriptions to the makerspace, Scratch hosts craft nights on Thursday evenings for knitters and other makers, organizes classes at the shop and at nearby Salt hill Pub. Knitters include folks who previously knit at other stores that hvae since closed, and artists range from needle-pointers and drawers to digital artists who bring in touch-screen palettes.

“We do a lot with kids, too,” said Zook, a former middle school teacher.

“I always had this theory that if you grow up believing you can do something, you will do that thing your whole life. So if you grow up believing you can make things, you’re never going to stop making things.”

The store has also opened its doors for other reasons, such as an organizing space for people who wanted to travel to or support the Women’s March on Washington in January.

They are in the early stages of launching a nonprofit, Art City NH. Zook and Giordani said they envision a collective of stakeholders, such as businesses and arts organizations like AVA Gallery and Art Center, working together to make downtown Lebanon an arts destination, from the mall to the green.

 

 

“Lebanon could totally use more public art,” Giordani said. “We look at cities all over the place in the country that have really invested in public art and used that as a way to revitalize downtowns and grow community, and we just think that our space here in Lebanon is perfect for that.”

“It’s a really good time for that kind of thing,” Zook said, “because we have some really big, really cool empty spaces right here that if we get some good energy here downtown, and I think we’re part of that, some really neat things could be happening.”

Potential initiatives include developing a sculpture walk, installing murals on appropriate buildings and beautifying functional but bland objects, such as the plywood that boards up the fountains in the winter.

They’re involved in the community in other ways, too: Zook, who is in the late stages of earning her doctorate, has joined the Planning Board. Giordani, who, with Griffin, is raising school-aged children, started running the Thursday afternoon farmers market in Colburn Park this season.

Suffice to say: They’re pretty busy.

“I feel like we’re unique in the area in how we do things,” Giordani said.

Zook started laughing. “Yeah,” she said. “We are, I think, unique in how do things across the board. We might be nuts. It’s entirely possible.”

“But it’s fun!” Giordani said. “It’s fun.”

Posted Up In White River Junction

Post’s path to opening Post the store was by turns unexpected, exciting, draining and serendipitous.

The North Pomfret resident was on vacation with her family in late 2015 when her daughter was trying to decide whether to attend law school out-of-state or at Vermont Law School in South Royalton. At the time, Post had worked in Woodstock for three decades, including 17 years as a buyer for F.H. Gillingham & Sons.

When her daughter announced her decision to move back home to attend VLS, Post realized she “wasn’t really learning anything new” herself. She had what she called a “crazy idea” to start an urban general store in Boston, enrolling at Suffolk University’s Intellectual Property & Entrepreneurship Clinic and mapping out a plan.

The experience was great, Post said, but the idea in Boston “wasn’t going to work out.”

“I never thought about this at all,” she said in her store, chuckling, “until I did.”

 

 

After friends encouraged Post to look into White River Junction, in the midst of its revitalization, she walked around downtown writing down phone numbers listed on empty storefronts. Developer Matt Bucy was the only one to call her back, and eventually she ended up in his Dreamland Building, in a small first-floor unit segmented into three sections with big windows overlooking North Main Street.

Now, Post said, “I can’t imagine doing it anywhere else,” in part because of the friendliness of her White River Junction business neighbors.

Shoppers have been a mix of passersby who peek into the shop and regulars who come back to see what new items Post has in stock. Students from the Center for Cartoon Studies, Post said, are among those who show up for tools such as special pens, while others are shopping for a mix of Post’s cards, notebooks, planners, games and other paper goods.

She also has hosted one class so far — a workshop on brush lettering taught by calligrapher Laura Di Piazza — with hopes for doing more lessons in the future.

Some of the idea for the store, Post said, came from her experience with a dear friend who was diagnosed with lymphoma in fall 2015.

“I’d just been thinking a lot about how we as women are busy, busy, busy, taking care of our families, taking care of work, everything,” Post said, “but as soon as somebody from our tribe needs help, everybody’s all in, ‘what can I do.’ It’s lists, Excel sheets, people doing everything to take care of our people.”

Post also thought about “how everyone is kind of wanting to scale back on stuff,” she said, “but it’s still really important to us to give things to people that we love that mean something, and also important to take care of ourselves, creatively or just expressing ourselves whether through journaling or art or things like that.”

Social media buzzwords also came to Post’s mind, such as “share,” “friend” and “like.” She thought about how social media is great to keep track of friends, but “it’s just an arm’s-length thing.”

“I really felt … that we really crave more intimacy and real-life sharing, whether it’s writing just a little card or a letter or playing Scrabble, just slow-down stuff,” she said.

Her husband supported those ideas, she said, but wondered: So what are you going to sell?

She recalls asking, “If I call it a stationery store, does that mean something?” and his reply, in jest: “Oh sure, pens and paper, things that people don’t use anymore!”

“I said, ‘I think they do,’ ” she said, “and it turns out, they do.”

 

 

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.