The Office Supply Store That Time Forgot | A Continuous Lean.

The Office Supply Store That Time Forgot

Apr 25th, 2010 | Categories: New York City, Retail | by Michael Williams

One block east of the Diamond District on 47th Street. One half block west of J. Press and Madison Avenue. Do yourself a favor and approach via Madison and save yourself the punishment that is 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. I remember someone once said that “real” New Yorkers say “Sixth Ave” and not Avenue of the Americas. I definitely say Sixth avenue, but I don’t consider myself a “real” New Yorker, and don’t think I ever will.

Anyway, the guys running Phil’s Stationery are definitely real New Yorkers. Walking into the shop took me back to 1970, yeah 1970 after what must have been some sort of riot, because Phil’s is a goddamn mess. The place is an amazing clusterfuck of boxes and dusty office supplies — some that clearly have been sitting there for years. It seems to stay afloat by supplying the diamond district with all sorts of specialty office supplies. The “office” in the back (if you can call it an office) is even more messy and completely old-school charming. There are boxes and boxes askew and four or five Windows ’95 era computers stacked on top of other stacks of old boxes. The place is just begging for one of those hoarding shows to come in and clean it up and get the owners checked into some sort of therapy. If you have any sort of spacial anxieties, you will definitely need to stop by the bodega for a Klonopin and a Coke before heading over.

All that said, I utterly and completely love the place. Office supplies are one of my all time favorite things (when I was a kid school shopping was enchanting) and this place has some great old stuff you don’t see anymore Staples and the like. In fact, Staples could be one of the worst places on earth. Everything is cheap and plain and made under the Staples house brand, which sucks. I want the classic stuff, from the little independent makers. I want more options and I have to think that there are people out there that (like me) still want quality. (Any private equity in the house? I have an idea — reach out.)

I asked the owner, Sam (I believe) if I could take photos in the shop and he quickly said no because of some agreement with a company in DUMBO, which to me sounded like horseshit. Anyway, I tried but was denied, so all I have for you is this exterior shot. Next time you have 45 minutes you want to kill, head over to 1970 on 47th Street.

You know Staples isn’t selling Airmail envelopes — but Phil’s has them.

Comments: 21

21 Comments to “The Office Supply Store That Time Forgot”

  1. Heavy Tweed Jacket
    on Apr 25th, 2010
    @ 9:52 PM

    That “Zerox Copies” kind of dates the place. I wonder if they have any NOS fountain pens or old Parker Jotters. Looks like a cool place.

  2. allplaidout
    on Apr 25th, 2010
    @ 9:54 PM

    I literally have one air mail envelope left. I must’ve walked past this place a thousand times.

    Thank you so much for the head’s up.

  3. mary
    on Apr 25th, 2010
    @ 9:55 PM

    zerox!

  4. Sue
    on Apr 25th, 2010
    @ 10:26 PM

    Looks like a great place but a long ways from MN. Here’s a hint on stationery my mom taught me – the kind you write on (and office supplies) has an e in it for envelope. Mom was full of these but many years later I still remember them.

  5. Sam
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 3:42 AM

    There’s a store just like this one on the corner of Varick & King. Can’t remember the name. Not nearly as old, but just as messy. I believe their Lotto business and candy supply keep them in business. And I would always find my pen refills there.

  6. Jane
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 4:20 AM

    Nice post. This looks pretty American to me, we get a different sort of shop front in England. These are the kind of shops that disappear overnight, taking the individuality of the streetscape with them.

  7. Palimpsest
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 5:14 AM

    Oh, that is great! The treasure chest of stationery. I’d love browse in there at all the goodies. Great post!

  8. Rich
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 7:25 AM

    Next time I’m in NY I’m heading here. I haven’t had a decent stationery fix for so long. I need that buzz again!

  9. Dan
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 8:05 AM

    Air mail letters made of that onion skin paper, ahhh.. I also love the store front sign, I wonder if that is a uniquely NYC style or if they’re all over the place?

    Re. the comment above about English store fronts there is a great blog

    http://www.londonshopfronts.com/

    Well worth checking out, if only for the slightly obsessive nature of it.

  10. Thad
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 10:01 AM

    If you are looking for some old-school type office supplies and would like to support the little guy (and the handicapped), may I suggest that you look into Skilcraft. They make the government issue black pen and are run by the National Industries for the Blind.

  11. jfox/10e
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 10:06 AM

    classic ACL post… they have the big desk blotter/calendars i bet.

  12. JB
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 12:53 PM

    Just one thing….47th between 5th and 6th is no punishment. Some of the sights in the street-facing windows are quite nice, and I’m not talking about the 2ct E Color VS1 diamond you’re shopping for your nagging fiancee-to-be.

  13. Tintin
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 2:58 PM

    ‘Bout time you got over there. Great post. But where are the photos? Last time I was there the owners’s Mom came out from the back yelling him in Yiddish. You can’t buy these experiences. I get my Olympus Pearl micro cassettes there and they have those great old ledger books and God knows what else.

  14. Tintin
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 3:01 PM

    Sorry- Just saw the bit about the pics. I’ll email you a couple a got with my phone camera.

  15. CTP
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 4:47 PM

    weren’t you curious to head over to the place in dumbo to validate the story?

  16. the_passenger
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 10:52 PM

    I know it’s not NYC, but… Bob Slate in Harvard Square, anyone? Love the place, and as a bonus, it’s neat and tidy.

  17. MR
    on Apr 26th, 2010
    @ 10:54 PM

    Great post ; looking forward to more in the “that time forgot” series .

    STORE FRONT- The Disappearing Face of New York (Gingko Press)
    http://www.jamesandkarlamurray.com/JamesandKarlaMurrayPortfolioStorefronts.html

  18. old hand
    on Apr 27th, 2010
    @ 3:18 AM

    Another good stationery store in NYC is Stevdan on 12th St. Similarly messy/crammed and filled with all sorts of obscure notebooks, paper gods, pens (which you can test out and buy individually). They also have art supplies.

  19. Usonian
    on Apr 27th, 2010
    @ 4:52 PM

    Passenger: I second you on Bob Slate. Whenever I’m in Boston I take the Red Line out to stock up on stuff.

  20. Speedmaster
    on Apr 29th, 2010
    @ 10:54 AM

    Great find. ;-)

  21. Vyanna
    on May 5th, 2010
    @ 8:05 PM

    the smell of paper, the heft of a good pen.
    There once was a store in our town(Vancouver, WA) filled w/ goodies that ran all the way back to the 1930′s. I worked/shopped there as they liquidated the stock kept me in paper for 10 years, sigh, all gone now. NYC is too far to go, any suggestions for Portland,OR area?