Places & Spaces Whilst Away

the passion of pens

June 19, 2012

Now, here on the blog i like to talk about design, inspirational people and slow living amongst other categories. I often write about lifestyle design and the art of living in a mindful way. Shopping and shops in particular is not something i cover much. The reason for this? No reason, except that i’m often underwhelmed with the shopping experience. Do you not find the shopping experience really important? Well i do.

With the rise of the internet, retail shops have had to work much harder to offer us consumers the incentive to spend our increasingly limited time visiting their shop and hand over our hard earned cash. Most of the time you’ll be able to get the very same product online at a better price. So why shop offline?

For me, it’s the pleasure i get to potentially use all my five senses and interact with people. Often, at that moment, the product becomes secondary and i leave inspired, rejuvinated and smiling. Isn’t that part of mindful living? So, what needs to happen for this to translate into a memorable shopping experience where i long to return?

There are many ways to skin a cat but there’s only one way to my purse. I require excellent customer service, knowledgeable staff, a friendly atmosphere and an inspiring interior. It goes without saying that they need to have the products i want. Not much to ask then, hey? Am i being unreasonable? I think not!

In the uk we have systematically killed off the notion of the small independent shop and managed to create high streets filled with chain stores that often make me ashamed of living in london. Badly designed, badly run, badly serviced and frankly places you won’t ever find me in. This was certainly not the case when i arrived here over 30 years ago. I’m happy to say that there’s a backlash going on and many more entrepreneurs are opening little independent shops and satisfying my five senses once again. Have a read of richard huntington’s excellent post about the future of the uk high street. In fact, if you’re interested in brands, have a snoop around his thought provoking blog.

So, what’s a girl to do who likes to shop?

Ha. Yes, like the discerning consumer that i am, i seek out my favourite haunts. Let me introduce you to one of them. When in nice the other day, looking to stock up on pens and accessories, i visited the very unique creutz et fils. I’ve been in love with this shop for many years and remember clearly the first time i came across it. As a pen collector and stationery fanatic i thought i’d found heaven.

Only 30 minutes to closing time, i rushed in, fondly greeted the ladies, did a spot of shopping and asked whether i could quickly take some shots and ask some questions so i can blog about them. Here’s the result of this brief encounter. Meet janine and janine, merci pour le cadeaux. J’aime le stylo!!

Creutz et fils was founded in 1896 by charles creutz I. It has been a family business ever since. Taken over by charles creutz II and now firmly run by his daughter janine forestier, this shop is as authentic as they come. Janine started working full-time in the shop back in 1976 and she tells me that her father was very encouraging and gave her free reign to really make her mark. I was totally inspired by that. Most family run businesses i’ve come in contact with, the founders (mostly men) have much trouble letting go and hence struggle to allow the new generation to make necessary changes.

Janine, apparently at 8 years of age repaired a pen of her teacher that stopped working. Was this in her blood? Was her fate sealed? I think so!

The shop’s interior has not been changed very much since the very beginning and that’s exactly what gives it its charm. Take a look at this photo. Janine was unsure of its exact date or year but thinks they were showing off their newly acquired telephone. For any historians out there, do you know roughly what year this could be? The man sitting is charles creutz I, the founder.

The shop has been known and frequented for general generations by fans and collectors and many people travel from far afield to come and visit, buy something or get their pens repaired. The exterior has not changed much, but everything around it has. Spot the car!

Wall to wall custom made wooden drawers with a perfect vintage patina line the walls of the entire interior. I think today this sort of design is highly sought after and reminds me of shabby chic. This is complimented by perfectly polished glass cases which are solely dedicated to writing. I love what’s behind the doors of the cabinets. All the individual labelled drawers for all the thousands of accessories they sell. It’s like a treasure trove and i so enjoy watching them know exactly where to find what. Janine and her girls, magali and noele respectively, greet you in white coats and are experts in their field. There is nothing they don’t know or very little they don’t have and i always come away inspired, with a new purchase and a little new knowledge. Best of all, they love their jobs and love serving you.

And that my friends is a great shopping experience!

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  • Reply Lauren June 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Oh Tina….a shop after my own heart. It might be worth a trip to Nice for this alone! I’d spend hours in there and come out with a refill for my Waterman ballpoint and ink for my Parker fountain pen and be a happy girl indeed. Really, really lovely post.

    • Reply tina June 22, 2012 at 4:53 am

      It is the most charming place and I love to visit everytime I’m there. If truth be told, I save up need for refills, wish for pens etc until I next go as find buying this stuff in London so uninspiring. Thanks Lauren x

  • Reply annie June 19, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Oh hello boyfriend! How lovely that you linked to Adliterate, he will be very touched.

    Richard and I talk about this a lot and there are a list of shops I try NEVER to go in, Boots & WHSmiths being top of the list. The low point for me was a few months ago when I bought a magazine in WH Smiths in Liverpool Street Station. I selected it, paid for it at the self-service tills and exited the shop without seeing one single staff member. There was not one person who acknowledged the fact I’d visited their shop and bought something from them. It made me feel utterly depressed. I think that was the first time ever I’d made a truly contactless purchase and it was awful.

    There really is nothing better than buying something from someone who loves what they’re selling. You can’t fake it. It doesn’t matter whether they are the proprietor or a shop assistant, enthusiasm wins over. I had this experience in Ortigia on Sunday.

    That pen shop is really lovely. Everyone loves stationery and pens don’t they? I wonder why that is.

    Great post Tina.x

    • Reply Erin June 19, 2012 at 3:32 pm

      Oh man, your nightmare experience sounds like a dream to me. I loathe overly friendly and pushy salespeople. Mostly I want to be left alone with the option to ask for help if I need it. Otherwise, keep your distance and let me shop! Maybe that’s just a UK/US difference, but over here salespeople are so annoyingly overbearing it turns into being the opposite of helpful.

      • Reply annie June 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm

        No no no I totally agree – but over here it’s the chain stores who jump on you as soon as you walk through the door and don’t pick up the ‘leave me alone’ vibes. Hobbs are the absolute worst for that. Their shop assistants are obsequious creeps.

    • Reply tina June 22, 2012 at 5:08 am

      Hello Hello Mr Richard, Mr Director of Saatchi & Saatchi UK, Annie’s other half! I bope you’re well and no doubt will be this weekend when you’re sunning yourself in Cannes. Pitty you guys have no time to visit this lovely shop. Well, that’s what I’m assuming!!

      Now, contactless shopping. I believe I’ve not had this pleasure as the shops that have this service are not shops on my radar. I detest WH Smith and seriously believe they need to disappear from the high street. I’ve never understood their appeal and the only times I’ve visited is in Heathrow when buying a magazine for a flight and to get some football world cup stickers for my nephew. A truly soulless experience and one that could start off a reason NOT to want to shop in the UK.

      Boots is another one on the high street I find shocking. That interior alone with that lighting can send me wanting to escape this country. Truly unimaginative and for the non discerning customer. Let’s not even attempt to talk about customer service in these places. I can’t remember the last time I visited a Boots. It’s years ago, but no doubt nothing would have changed.

      For a long time now I religiously ONLY buy from shops, vendors, market traders where I believe I get a shopping experience from. They are the ones that I want to support and help thrive. The rest, good riddance, may you all go bancrupt because you don’t deserve our custom. As you can tell I’m in the total minority here:)

      I think there’s something nostalgic about pens and stationery and the possibility of creativity!

  • Reply Holly June 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Oooh!! Yes, that IS a great shopping experience. Seems like a magical place. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Annie’s right about buying something from someone who is passionate and enthusiastic about their products. That’s why I like to feature smallish online shops on my blog, it’s easier to feel connected to the people behind the shop, and I want to promote that. This is especially important in online shopping – since it’s really sort of contact-less. As Annie portrayed, that can be quite a sad thing.

    Great post Tina Xx.

    • Reply tina June 22, 2012 at 5:11 am

      Yes, I love you curated online shop posts. I agree, it’s even more important for all the obvious reasons.

      Whether on or offline, I believe that passion and integrity shine through. xx

  • Reply PopArtRockGirlYeah! June 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Wow! I want to work here, immediately! I love all those little Wooden drawers, with bits n bobs in them. V inspiring! 🙂 x Michaela

    • Reply tina June 22, 2012 at 5:16 am

      Can you believe how fun it would be to go behind the scenes and look into all these drawers?

      I love that when I visit, I’m always after refills, rubber replacements, nibs etc etc and they know exactly where to go and find stuff. x

  • Reply noreen June 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    wow, what a lovely place! i also love paper, pens, and art supplies, so that shop would be on my itinerary. your story was lovely, and i agree about family businesses and how wonderful it is that he gave her free reign to do as she wanted.

    the historic pictures are so nice, too!

    • Reply tina June 22, 2012 at 5:22 am

      Actually Janine took out the historic photos from the safe and her whole face lit up when she told me the history of the shop.

      I used to be a business consultant specialising in creative and family run businesses so have seen many where the founders just didn’t let go of their reigns and actually undermined the new generation, especially if they were women. I was really surprised and inspired to hear Janine talk fondly of her dad and how he encouraged her to learn, make mistakes and put her own stamp on the business. Maybe with more clients like that I would not have got so despondent and left the industry:)

      Thanks for your comment:)

  • Reply Theresa June 20, 2012 at 6:59 am

    Yes, where have all the charming shops gone off to? Getting swallowed up by the giants. It must be getting harder and harder for mom & pop shops to survive, but they are so vital for our culture (and our economy). This beautiful store is no exception. What a truly charming shop, Tina. I could spend hours in this little shop trying out all the pens and choosing just the perfect one. Thank you for all the beautiful photos.

    • Reply tina June 22, 2012 at 5:27 am

      I don’t particularly like any of the pen shops in London but once a year there’s a pen show in a small town hall and I love going there. You will find traders and lovers of pens and you can talk geeky talk and get whatever your heart desires. There’s one guy who will shape your fountain pen nib according to your hand writing and holding of the pen. The queues are always huge and I’ve never actually had mine altered by him.
      One day….

      One year they had a graphologist. That was an incredible experience for me….

  • Reply Igor June 20, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Now this is truly a gem that you’ve picked here. I’d say a good reason to consider a trip to Nice/Cote d’Azur in the near future:-)

    • Reply tina June 22, 2012 at 5:28 am

      Yes, agree. It’s definitely worth a trip. There’s another shop I love but didn’t have time to go and photograph. I was on holiday after all:) I’ll keep that for next time!

  • Reply Heather @ Canal Notes June 20, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Pens and stationery, fantastic! Love little shops like this – I’m putting this one on my list for the next time I’m in Nice 🙂 So charming!

    • Reply tina June 22, 2012 at 5:30 am

      Well, I’m not sure I can compete with your shopping trip to Japan. That is my ultimate dream!

      Go and visit when you’re next there. Am sure you will find a gem! x

  • Reply Chi@106 June 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Ah, what a heartwarming post and an utterly charming shop! My Dad would be in absolute heaven if he ever went there – he’s always been mad about Parker pens! 😀

    I used to love shopping but, like you, the British high street ruined that for me. 🙁
    I now buy pretty much everything online – including food. How sad! I do hope things improve – I dread to think what the future holds otherwise.

    As an online retailer in the making, I’m constantly thinking of ways to make the shopping experience as warm and personal as I can when the time comes – we’ll see … 🙂

    • Reply tina June 22, 2012 at 5:38 am

      I LOVE Parker pens and have always had some, right from early childhood!

      I’m saddened to hear you foodshop online. I have actually never done that and cannot image to do so.
      There must be farms or farmers shops and markets near you. Also there must be small independent retailers who sell food for L. I know you buy organic stuff and of course you can get that online but….. especially with Abel & Co and Riverford!

      I like to choose my meat,fish and actually if truth be told, the food shopping experience to me is holy!!

      I habe no doubt that your hottly anticipated new online venture will have all the elements to make people want to buy from you x

  • Reply parisbreakfast June 22, 2012 at 3:29 am

    Absolutely wonderful post Tina!
    I was a crow quill pen user from way back and loved the old pen shops in London. I used to go quite nuts in them.
    So many memories from this post
    merci carolg

    • Reply tina June 22, 2012 at 5:45 am

      Thanks Carol:)

      Then you might remember Mr Poole? He used to have a shop selling crow quill pens and the likes in Covent Garden in the 80’s. When rents started to rise, he took residence within Cornelissen & son in Tottenham Court Road until his death in the 90’s…. I LOVE Cornelissen and hope it will never cease to trade!

  • Reply Ingrid Weir June 26, 2012 at 3:58 am

    Tina – I love this post. I want to go to Nice and buy a pen!

  • Reply Ingrid Weir June 26, 2012 at 4:00 am

    On second thoughts the airfare from Australia might make that one expensive pen! But one day, when I am horseriding through fields of lavender and groves of olive trees in the South of France I will remember this post and make a detour to buy a pen!

    • Reply tina June 26, 2012 at 6:57 am

      Ha. That’s the sweetest thing…. yes better to combine it with horseriding through fields of lavender and groves of Olive Trees….

      Hope you’re well;)

  • Reply for the love of stationery » colourliving December 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    […] guys know how much i LOVE a good, independent shop. I’ve written before about the state of the uk high street. Some of you know of my passion for stationery, others might […]

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