Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Would you like a lovely pen?

Therese Schmidt at Atlas Stationers.

     Cities are serendipity. Working at home might be easier and more convenient. But who ever drops in? Going downtown, you have all those people gathered together, and one thing leads to another.
     I was meeting a city official for lunch at The Dearborn Monday. No need to drive into the heart of the Loop, however. I had time, so parked on Franklin. After I got out of the car, I realized I was around the corner from Atlas Stationers, 227 W. Lake, and decided to stroll over and check up on my favorite office supply store. Just walking in that direction was educational: I looked for Whimsical Candy, figuring I'd pop in to support the cause by picking up a Raspberry Truffle Crisp. But they are gone, no doubt a victim of the pandemic. 
    But Atlas Stationers, which has a strong online presence, endures in its cast iron columned flagship.
     "Maybe Therese will be in," I thought, of Therese Schmidt, who owns the place with her husband Don, whose grandfather founded it in 1939. Not with much hope — people aren't downtown the way they once were. But the moment. I walked into the store, she came out of the back room, as if on cue.
    We had a lot to catch up on. Her Tennessee Treeing Dog, a 90-pounder named Captain James Tiberius Kirk, had blasted after a squirrel he saw through a window and smashed into her head while she sat on the sofa, setting off a series of medical troubles.
     "I almost kicked the bucket," she said.
     Therese underwent brain surgery, a craniotomy at Condell. Two sections of her skull were replaced by plates. She showed me a photo of her 35 staples.
     "They did a number on my head," she said. "I looked like the Bride of Frankenstein. I didn't run for six weeks."
     For her, that was an earthquake. Readers with long me
mories might remember that Therese is a dedicated runner, whom I accompanied once as she raced her deliveries around Loop office buildings. She doesn't deliver office supplies by racing a cart along Lower Wacker Drive anymore — not enough workers downtown — though she does wear shorts every day, thank to a vow she'll keep "until the Bears win the Super Bowl again."
     We also
 talked fountain pens. At the front of the store, Atlas features a wide array of fine  pens. I apologized: I tried to dangle them in front of the boys, as potential college graduation gifts, but neither bit. 
     "Kids aren't into pens anymore," I suggested, trying to spread the blame around. She disagreed, claiming that young people are gravitating more toward fountain pens, as an offshoot of tattoo culture. 
     "They want some ink with their ink" she said.
     Ballpoints do well too. One recent customer was Lori Lightfoot, who came in last week and bought six of the store's custom ballpoint pens with designs keyed to the stars in the Chicago flag.
     "That's our exclusive," she said. They've already sold out pens honoring the 1933 Century of Progress and the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, and are now on the third version, an 1893 World's Columbian Exposition pen.
     "People love it," she said.
     I could see why. The pens are made in a limited edition of 500, come in their own numbered tubes, are priced reasonably—$56—make great gifts, and go to support one of Chicago's most distinctive and personable family businesses, one that doesn't rest on its past but keeps charging into the future.
     "You have to change up the game a little bit," Therese



  1. Such an engaging photo. I don't remember if you ran a picture of Theresa last time you wrote about her, but the photo beckons: that's a person I would really like to meet.


    1. Thanks. She's a very friendly person.

    2. Just realized I misspelled "Therese." You only spelled it right 5 times. Thanks for overlooking the error.

    3. It didn't seem something to point out.

  2. My wife went downtown today. I asked where she went and what did she do? She said I went to Atlas Stationary . Quite the coincidence


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