April 21, 2021 •
Editor’s Letter: United We Stand

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So, Paper Source (PS) filed for bankruptcy March 2, and its ripples were pronounced. While it’s become common to see retailers from Chuck E. Cheese to Brooks Brothers filing Chapter 11, this one feels different. Over the past several years, the Chicago-based chain became the corporate face of our industry. For makers, getting a coveted spot on their famed card wall was cause for celebration. And those walls still speak volumes about the noteworthy approach PS took in integrating small artisans into every store footprint.

All week, makers posted Instagram videos detailing how they’d just fulfilled large purchase orders from PS, excited for such a promising start to 2021. One even packed her order around giving birth! That they’re now filing claims to try and collect is incredibly disheartening.

For its part, PS has emphasized that it was overwhelmed by its purchase of 30 Papyrus stores on March 2, 2020, just prior to COVID- 19’s arrival. With this filing, Paper Source can continue operating its 158 stores while it formulates a plan to repay creditors.

I’m sure PS wasn’t expecting such a vehement reaction from its vendors or community. Here’s a typical comment in its once-upbeat Instagram feed: “What’s this I hear you filed for bankruptcy? Please pay your independent artists first. Many women owned business (sic) have honored your word it’s time you do the same.”

PS responded to most posts: “We were profoundly impacted by the pandemic … (and) found a path forward through the immediate sale of the brand … our intention is to do the right thing by our community — our customers, makers, vendors and employees — and we ask for everyone’s patience as we go through the processes to ensure we can continue together.”

The New York Times published a March 10 story not on the filing, but the negative optics of treating female entrepreneurs like this during Women’s History Month. While some makers have been vocal; others, like Rebekah Tennis of Wild Ink Press, a 10-year PS vendor, have chosen a quieter, more watchful stance.

Meanwhile, George White of Up With Paper and UWP Luxe recounted a similar experience with Borders. “We sold to Borders prior to their Chapter 11, and then shipped them again while they were in Chapter 11, before they closed for good. The money from shipping them in Chapter 11 more than covered our losses from invoices they did not pay.”

Obviously, every maker is entitled to her own response. I’m encouraged to see us supporting one another. Shayna Norwood of Steel Petal Press arranged a group rate with a Chicago attorney, while retailers like Gus & Ruby and Lionheart Press placed orders with affected makers. Finally, the “greeting cards are dead” media narrative of 2020 never rematerialized, and the card market emerges from COVID-19 stronger than ever. That’s some news we can all welcome!

Sarah Schwartz, editor-in-chiefUntil next issue,

Sarah Schwartz

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