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As any writer or reader of love letters will tell you, the clickity-clack of a keyboard and the swipe of a finger over cold, hard glass are poor substitutes for the sensorial pleasures of mindfully gliding a fine pen over high-grade paper or of tearing an envelope open to uncover familiar handwriting. Those so enlightened, as well as those who are generally in the business of physically dealing with printed and written matter, could find no better destination than our March 2022 Business of the Month, Stevdan Stationers (473 6th Avenue @ 12th Street), your neighborhood source for stationery, fine and every day pens, office and school supplies, greeting cards, gift items, printing services, and helpful advice.
Stevedan Stationers opened half a century ago across from its current location. Its current owner, Ejaz Chaudhry, purchased it from the father of Steve and Dan, the namesakes of the store, twenty five years ago. An architecture student turned business owner originally from Pakistan, Ejaz at the time already owned University Stationery at the corner of 12th Street and University Place. When Stevdan came up for sale, he jumped at the opportunity and, until he closed University Stationery eight years ago, operated both businesses. Stevdan’s manager, Aziz Boughroum, arrived in New York from Morocco with an engineering background but limited English skills not long after Ejaz took over Stevdan. Upon arrival, he started looking for opportunities to improve his English. One day, he happened across the stationery store, asked for a job, and got one. Before long, he went from regular employee to enthusiastic manager, as he pursued a master’s degree in engineering management. Although he completed his degree and took on another job, Aziz never left Stevdan, feeling attached to the business and having grown fond of the relation he developed with Ejaz, his family, and stationery customers of all ages. Ejaz and his family also share this sense of connection to their business and its surrounding neighborhood.
During Aziz’s tenure, much has changed in the stationery market, driving many of Stevdan’s competitors — especially those with a singular focus — out of business, and pushing the store to move to its smaller and more affordable current location. And yet, Stevdan has remained steadfast in its commitment to providing a wide array of high quality stationery products: pens (Parker, Waterman, Mont Blanc); notebooks (Claire Fontaine, Moleskine); filing supplies (Smead, Ampad, Esselte); datebooks (Charing Cross, Letts of London, Quovadis); and much more. Aziz explains:
When we do the stationary business, all the time, we do it with the love. Carry only the brand names. We listen to our customers. If we were thinking about money, we could do a lot of things. We could switch it to like a newsstand; we could put soda. But we try not to do all these things. We try to keep it stationery as much as we can. We don’t do the second hand brands. That’s our vision; and that’s how we think the business is supposed to be done.
To remain competitive, Stevdan not only avoids knock-offs, but also deals directly with suppliers, avoiding third party intermediaries even when that entails making substantial minimum orders. This allows the store to keep an ample supply of merchandise and offer it at reasonable prices.
This dedication to its original focus, however, has not prevented the store from diversifying its operation. Recognizing a decline in the stationery business about a decade ago, Stevdan began moving into other product categories, without straying too far from its identity. It has gradually added board games, greeting cards, and, most recently, printing services, growing those from an outsourced to a full-service operation. This has helped Stevdan extend beyond its traditional customer base. It used to be that most shoppers consisted of neighborhood regulars who learned about the store through word of mouth or from walking by. The shop has nurtured this clientele, offering discounts to some nearby residents, to students, and to nearby P.S. 41; and Aziz describes the pleasure of seeing some customers go from grade schoolers to adults. Now, though, through its printing services, Stevdan also draws business from local establishments, like Rowdy Rooster, Gene’s Restaurant, and Manhattan Medical Arts, among others.
Aziz regards Stevdan’s diversification as an important factor in the business’ longevity and future prospects. According to him, however, the key to the store’s success in the neighborhood has always been and will continue to be the treatment of its customers, a passionate topic for Aziz.
We try to provide not only the merchandise. The people who work with us, we tell them, make sure you provide the good customer service. Act like a human. I want the customer, when they are in the store, to feel like they came to visit a neighbor. When we sell a pen, I know the pen will cost three dollars. When the customer comes, I want the customer to try the pen. I want them to ask me. I make sure. It’s hard, especially…downtown, to deal with the customer like [a national office supply chain store], with all respect. You have to make them feel like they’re local. You cannot put something against the wall and imagine they’re just going to buy it. You have to present it. You have to answer the questions. When they come, they’re going to tell you what they need, what they like, and then you have to answer; and then there is a trust. The neighbors in the area, they trust our choice. Without any marketing, we provide the best customer service, I think.
The approach Aziz describes may sound old-fashioned, or even seem simplistic when put so bluntly. But there may be a method to this madness. Some years ago, a national office supply chain opened two stores close to Stevdan, one on 14th Street and one one on 8th Street. They both closed within five years. Stevdan is still there. May it so remain.
For providing for decades top-quality tools of the trade for poets, businessmen, and everyone in between, we are thrilled to name Stevedan Stationers our March 2022 Business of the Month.
Stop by at 473 6th Avenue or visit their website.
What special small business would you like to see featured next? Just click here to nominate our next one. Thank you! #shoplocalnyc
Here is a map of all our Businesses of the Month: