April 27, 2022 •
This Portland flagship elevates a brand into an eye-popping, exhilarating lifestyle destination
In January 2020, Victoria Venturi, founder and creative director of Paper Epiphanies, was enjoying a great trajectory with her fiery, distinctive letterpress cards and stationery. Her designs were in over 2000 stores across the country, and thanks to the pithy feminist humor and wisdom that put Paper Epiphanies on the stationery map, Venturi had been featured on NPR and Forbes, and even gave the keynote at a Greeting Card Association (GCA) retreat.
By April, more than 95% of those retailers had closed, and Venturi’s accounts receivable was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, a spike in direct to consumer orders showed that her cards — and perspective — were still in demand. So on April Fool’s Day, not too long after delivering her second child, Victoria ignored all conventional retail wisdom and opened her flagship.
Because the Portland, Oregon, space was envisioned as a place for the Paper Epiphanies brand to express itself as it cannot when, say, another shop carries a half-dozen cards, Venturi lavished attention on every last detail. Most important was “a badass card wall,” she explained. “Without a doubt that was the MUST HAVE that trumped everything else. We wanted to create a card wall that was simultaneously familiar and completely new, to showcase over 300 of our cards in a way that felt sexy.”
The neon-graced card wall would earn the shop a Noted @ *Noted Award for Best Card Wall last spring, barely months after the shop opened, but it is by no means its only distinctive element, Venturi described. “We also wanted to elevate the stationery shopping experience — clean lines, marble floors, not overcrowded tables and shelves. The card wall makes it a ‘card shop’ but everything else screams concept shop in a good way.”
As such, not every idea made it in, Venturi recalled. “We cut certain design elements so that the store felt ‘edgy, yet refined.’ We didn’t want to come across as campy or look like a porn store with all our black and pink. We chose what we wanted to make neon pink and then cut that in half. We used neon pink very sparingly. That said, I definitely have to open other locations so we can use some of those PINK design elements we cut.”
A Literate Approach
Venturi carefully considers how every last SKU relates to her tagline of “Cards. Gifts. Girl Power” — especially books. These may seem like a surprising direction, but it was actually quite calculated, Venturi shared. “This category choice was a combination of personal interest — I love to read — and a desire to tell a larger story as part of our concept shop. For us, the books we choose speak for themselves and encourage shoppers to look deeper and ask tough questions. And in juxtaposition to that, a lot of the books are wild and funny like “Queer Icons and their Cats” or “Men to Avoid in Art and Life” — they definitely represent Paper Epiphanies’ authentic and humorous tone.”
As a result, “Books are FLYING,” Venturi enthused. “We are consistently having to decide whether to reorder the same style or bring in a new one. I will say, I will not be opening a bookstore anytime soon, as the process of shipping and receiving books and reporting damages is quite a beast!”
Bestsellers typically relate to what Venturi terms “self-care and exploration,” she noted. “(These may be) guided journals about learning more about yourself (or) a book with essays to change the way you think. A favorite lately has been “Don’t F*cking Panic: The Sh*T They Don’t Tell You in Therapy About Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks, & Depression.” It’s been really rewarding and enlightening to see what books resonate.”
Accordingly, Venturi’s top three gift products are: This is for the Women Who Don’t Give a F*ck book by Janne Robinson; Neon woven baskets from an African women’s coop; and the M.I.L.F. Candle by Fvith. Her top three paper products are: Paper Epiphanies greeting cards; Moglea hand-painted journals; and Paper Epiphanies Boxed Letterpress Notecards. Overall, prices range from $2 for a Le Pen to $215 for a backgammon set.
Watching customers has informed Paper Epiphanies’ evolution, Venturi observed. “We often get asked for more product for people with cancer. It’s a sad reality, but support and sympathy is a growing category for us. Aside from that, we listen by watching what people buy: Follow the money. We observe what colors, items, price points are resonating. A great example would be black and white items versus color. Color wins EVERY TIME, which was surprising to me. Our customers are not subtle and they love bright things. This really influenced our holiday choices, which are beyond colorful.”
Meanwhile on TikTok, Payton, one of Venturi’s “weekend gals,” runs the rollicking feed. “She is tok savvy, so I handed over the reins,” Venturi commented. “I think some people take social media very seriously. We just want to have fun and build brand awareness. There is no real strategy on our TikTok and video reels other than having fun and boosting people’s spirits…. hmmm, maybe that is a strategy!”
Looking ahead, Venturi plans to focus on growing her ecommerce business exponentially this year, and hopes to open a second location in 2023. As to lessons learned so far, Venturi is grateful she rushes no longer. “Early on, I would be quick to try and take on any and every opportunity. Now we move slower, more measured. I say no more often and only take on collaborations or opportunities that work for our business right now. We have a lot of big plans but I want to first execute on and succeed with our current projects.”
Venturi’s best advice to the community is to not follow the herd. “We opened a store when it was the right time for our business and because it was a fit for our brand. Not everyone should own a store. Or start a business. Trust your gut and don’t feel pressure to imitate the business journey of others.”
To learn even more about Victoria Venturi, founder and creative director, check out the Q&A with Sarah Schwartz, editor-in-chief.