We've returned from our annual pilgrimage to New York City and walked our thirty miles. We don't see shows and sit, we see stores and museums and walk. On our list was the pencil store, run by Caroline Weaver (there's an interview with her here). We knew we were going to buy pencils, but I really didn't have any idea what kind or how many.
The proprietor sits neatly behind her desk, directly across from customers who have walked up stairs and through the glass door. A customer sits in a chair in front of her, signing a receipt for $140. The proprietor wraps the purchases in yellow envelopes fastened with pencil-yellow washi tape and tied with black and white twist twine. Sun streams in, lighting up the front displays, making patterns on the clean walls.
"What is your best-selling pencil?" someone asks. The proprietor gets up and moves to the displays to point to it.
"Why are your pencils so expensive?" asks a young man. "I can get these at Staples or on Amazon for less."
"I can't control the prices other people charge," says the proprietor. "The prices are based on what they cost me."
The young man seems to want his grievance and tries to argue further. But has he really looked around? This store, the size of my little living room, has pencils, pencil grips, sharpeners, notebooks, erasers, and their relations from all over the world. All sizes, hardnesses, colors. Here are sparkly pencils, a chalk pencil, Danish voting pencils with tiny holes where they are tied to voting booths, water-soluble pencils, tiny slim pencils, multicolored pencils and a machine where, for fifty cents, you get a surprise pencil. (I was so distracted I forgot to try it out.)
My question: "What is your current favorite pencil?" She says it is only fifty cents, but shows me the pencil from India with a sturdy lead that writes extra dark. I take two and thirty-five more dollars worth of atmosphere, happiness, pencils, and potential.
If you are interested in reading more about pencils, Caroline Weaver has written a book you might enjoy, The Pencil Perfect: The Untold Story of a Cultural Icon.