By Alexa Epitropoulos | email@example.com
Just as Amy Rutherford celebrates 10 years in business at Red Barn Mercantile, she’s preparing to open her second concept a block away.
Rutherford has long sold unique stationery, veering toward the quirky and offbeat, alongside home furnishings and an assortment of gifts at Red Barn’s 1117 King St. storefront. She said her new store, Penny Post Paper Goods, located at 1201 King St., will be an extension of the inventory Red Barn has always had.
“People really responded to all the paper goods we’ve had at the store. There was one time I couldn’t go to the National Stationery Show and my friend, Nole Garey, who is the blogger behind Oh So Beautiful Paper, was posting all of this stuff. I loved everything she posted,” Rutherford said. “I wanted to buy everything and I thought, ‘There’s so much that I could open a whole store for this.’”
That was two years ago. Since then, Rutherford has secured the spot for her store – a 900-square-foot corner space at the intersection of King and Fayette streets – and started the process of curating and building out the space.
The aesthetic and the selection will be different, but still familiar for frequent Red Barn customers. The space will be light and airy, with Rutherford saying she’ll be “sticking to light wood and oak” and a simple color scheme – three white walls with a pop of dark green on one wall.
Black hex tile will also spell out a message for customers walking in off the street.
“It’s going to be much more contemporary. I cannot get away from that vintage feel, so it’ll have a tinge of that,” Rutherford said. “I think the name evokes that – Penny Post was one of the first postal services in the U.K.”
Products will include stationery staples, such as greeting
cards — which Rutherford said customers have “responded to the most” at Red Barn — personal stationery and custom stationery, particularly for weddings, parties and the holidays. Planners, calendars, notebooks and journals will be prominent on store shelves. Desk accessories, office supplies and party supplies will also be in Penny Post’s inventory.
As far as brands, Penny Post will carry popular stationery makers like Rifle Paper Co. and small makers, including calligraphy products sourced through Alexandria-based Meant To Be Calligraphy.
“It’s new for us. We’re wading in slowly to those waters, but we hope to be up to full speed soon,” Rutherford said.
It might seem counterintuitive that paper goods, like stationery and handmade invitations and greeting cards, are coming back into style. Rutherford suspects the ubiquity of technology has created a longing for something more tangible.
“I think it’s being driven by the iPhone generation,” Rutherford said. “We’re all so remotely connected. There’s this distance between us and yet we’re connected through social media and email. I think people are missing he novelty and nostalgia of a written note. I think that’s why it’s having a resurgence.”
Penny Post plans to open shortly after Labor Day weekend, which will coincide with Red Barn’s anniversary celebration on the weekend of Sept. 8.
She said she has never lacked support at Red Barn, even after a sluggish start.
“The first five years were a little rough because we were on a side street. We opened in 2007 and then 2008 hit and it was a big struggle,” Rutherford said.
“Gosh, Alexandria has been so welcoming. The business community has been welcoming, the visitors bureau and Visit Alexandria have been so good to us. If it weren’t for the [Old Town Boutique] District, I wouldn’t have survived the recession,” she added.
Rutherford said she hopes that Penny Post flourishes in its own right, like Red Barn did before it.
She calls her flagship store the “casual living room” to the
showpieces at neighbor establishments like The Hour.
“I hope that Penny Post continues to grow and I think people will like it. I hope they enjoy it. I hope we’re making memories for folks by contributing to weddings and holidays and custom invitations. I hope we reach the market and become a destination that brings people into Alexandria from D.C.,” Rutherford said. “There’s nothing quite like this anywhere, not even in D.C. – not the combination that we do – so I’m hoping the products we have will bring people to Alexandria.”