A trip to an independent office supplies store is one of the small pleasures in life, especially if you are familiar with San Francisco’s Patrick & Co. Patrick’s was founded in 1873, and not only has it been a city fixture since the late 19th century, it also has remained a family-owned business for over 140 years.
The Fox Plaza store, which was so near and handy to where I work and was the perfect place to browse on my lunch hour, closed earlier this year, a loss to the Civic Center neighborhood. That said, there is nothing quite comparable to the flagship store, where Patrick & Co. has been located since shortly after the 1906 earthquake. The founder of the company, Mr. James M. Patrick, purchased the building housing the store at 560 Market Street in 1920, where it has remained ever since.
Over a decade ago, while on a trip to France, I found myself browsing a small stationery store located near the Left Bank in Paris. Thinking to write a letter and some post cards, I tried out various pens and left with one that I liked very much. Little did I know that this pen was to become my all time favorite writing instrument. With its rollerball technology featuring gel ink that never blotches, the pen moves across the paper in a manner similar to but more smooth than a fountain pen.
Upon returning to San Francisco, I immediately regretted not buying a dozen or more of these wonderful pens. One day, I had an a-ha moment. Pilot is a U.S. company, n’est-ce pas? And so I went in search of the pen, and found it, or at least one similar to its French cousin, at Patrick & Co.
This story, as it turns out, is not entirely accurate. The Pilot U.S. website has a wide range of pens, and mostly likely there are many styles that I might like. But why mess with a good thing? The pen I use and love is the Pilot P-700 (P for precision). Pilot is, in fact, a Japanese company, founded in 1918, with subsidiaries in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Brazil, Russia and Australia as well as the U.S. Most Pilot pens are manufactured in Japan, the U.S. and France.
Shirley Edelson, who works for Patrick & Co. at its Mission Street store, immediately recognized my Pilot pen. “Oh, we carry that!” she said. “It is right over here.” Patrick & Co. specializes in pens, office furniture, moleskin, greeting cards, giftwrap, staplers, calendars and just about anything an office needs, either for home or business.
Shirley was quite intrigued by the book I was reading, The Perfection of the Paperclip, by James Ward (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2014), originally published in England as Adventures in Stationery (Profile Books Ltd, 2014).
This quirky little tome covers just about anything a person could want to know about the invention, history and practical uses of office supplies. Want to know the history and origins of the Bic pen? Where are Moleskin notebooks manufactured, and what makes them unique from other, similar books? How did paper come to be made from trees rather than rag cloth? What are erasers made of and who invented them? Who invented liquid paper and why? On a broad range of topics, no detail, it seems, is too small to note.
“Mr. Patrick will love that book!” said Shirley. She was referring to Mr. James M. Patrick III, who now runs Patrick & Co. with his son, Jamie Patrick. Mr. Patrick, according to Shirley, holds a weekly staff meeting to talk up the newest and brightest of office supplies. The deep love of all things pertaining to the office is apparent as one strolls through any of the three Patrick & Co. stores in San Francisco.
Each of the Patrick & Co. San Francisco stores has a unique character. Local artists have a key spot among the greeting cards, including the beautiful cards of Paula Skene, whose cards also can be found at the high end Gump’s Store in downtown San Francisco. Watercolor prints from England, pop-up cards made in Italy, humorous cards, and elegant Crane & Co. stationery are among the offerings. All are reasonably priced.
Shirley, who currently is 88 years old, has worked for Patrick & Co. for over 35 years, having returned to work at the age of 52. Although she had worked as a 14-year old in retail at the dollar and dime store, where she made the wage of 45 cents an hour just after the Great Depression, and later, as a childcare provider, it was not until her husband became ill that she needed a job that provided benefits. After a brief time at Schwabacher Frey, she found her second home at Patrick & Company.
Shirley could not speak more highly of (Mr.) Jim Patrick, Jamie Patrick, her colleagues, her supervisor Lucila Galvan, and Patrick & Co. in general, or of her delight in working at the Mission Street store. She has seen many changes during her long tenure. One thing that is apparent, however, is that a good employer is reflected in its employees, and Shirley Edelson is an excellent role model for a good company.
Patrick & Co., Market Street
The Perfection of the Paperclip by James Ward
San Francisco Chronicle, Full Time work suits S.F. Store Clerk at 84 by Edward Guthman, Dec. 21, 2011
Shirley Edelson, Patrick & Co., Mission Street