In recent weeks we have witnessed the disappearance of another well-loved chain of shops from our high streets and shopping malls. Now the UK’s Paperchase stationery stores have closed.
This means the loss of 106 stores, 28 concession stands (in shops such as Next and Selfridges) and the loss of some 820 jobs. As well as being a familiar presence in the shopping centres, there were Paperchase shops at some railway stations too.
At the eleventh hour, the supermarket giant Tesco stepped in and acquired the Paperchase brand. It remains to be seen what they will do with it. The Paperchase shops are gone. If you click on Paperchase’s web site, you are now diverted to Tesco and greeted with a message that Paperchase online and UK Paperchase stores are now closed and that “we look forward to bringing this well loved brand to Tesco.”
Paperchase was founded in 1968 and grew to be a familiar sight, along with stationers Rymans and WHSmiths. The branches were not all identical but were bright and inviting to browse in, featuring a large selection of greeting cards, shelves offering numerous styles of notebooks in all shapes and sizes, tables of toys and novelty products appealing to children, loads of stationery accessories, pots of colourful pens and, in some stores, displays of fountain pens in glass cabinets. These might included Parker, Cross and Kaweco and a few others although generally none too expensive for an impulse buy.
Over the years, I visited Paperchase a lot. If my wife and I came across a Paperchase we would pop in for a look round and often buy something.
Today, looking around my writing space (aka the dining room) I rounded up just some of the products that had come from Paperchase, for a team photo. These ranged from packets of standard international cartridges in a variety pack (I seem to remember that they had once cost £2.50 for a bag of 50), through literally dozens of notebooks, pads of writing paper and file paper, to a few memorable pen purchases.
If you chose a fountain pen from the display cabinet, the staff often struggled to locate the box. My favourite Paperchase story (told here before) is of once buying a handsome Cross Century II fountain pen in black with a chrome cap, at the price marked on the display. Several months later, I was in the same shop and saw the matching Cross ball pen and asked to buy it. This time, they were unable to find the box and its code in order to sell it. Eventually, it transpired that it could be sold only as part of a set with the fountain pen. After proving that I had bought the fountain pen already, they agreed that the ball pen was mine too!
I remember where I was when I bought my first Kaweco Perkeo: it was the Paperchase shop in St Peter Port, Guernsey. The pen was a success and I later stocked up on about five more, in various colours. This pre-dated my same behaviour with the Cross Bailey Light, although those were not from Paperchase.
However, my greatest dependence on Paperchase, was for notebooks and journals. I remember discovering the little chunky black A6 journals with a staggering 600 pages of squared, fountain pen friendly paper. I bought a couple of those and was sorry when on a later visit, they seemed to have ceased selling them. But then I later found them back in stock again a year or two later, I binged on another three! They were great, such as for jotting down trivia when watching tv or listening to music online. They would last for ages.
Paperchase had a wide choice of journals. Some had paper that was not fountain pen friendly. I liked the A6 flexi-covered books, nicely stitched, with 320 pages of either lined paper (8mm line spacing) or plain paper, both of which were great for fountain pens. They were usually £8.00 each and occasionally reduced in a sale. I tended to buy more than I needed (an understatement).
For larger, A5 journals, Paperchase once sold journals with bonded black leather covers, with 384 pages of smooth, lined paper, with a generous 10mm row height. I used these for more lasting projects, such as memories of my school days and would enjoy writing in these with various fountain pens and inks.
Paperchase also had an online service, although I did not use it as I was well served with branches in London. But I did make use of their loyalty card. If presented when making a purchase, you would be given an offer with your receipt, for a discount on your next purchase, subject to various conditions. I once bought some pads of file paper, only to be told that there was nothing to pay as it was all covered by accrued benefits. I was very fond of their pads of file paper, which I use at home and at work. Not only was the paper of good quality but also, the pages could be torn off the pad easily without ripping the paper, unlike some I have used.
The final months of Paperchase’s departure have been sad to see. I visited the branch in Windsor and bought a few more pads of file paper. The staff had just heard the news of the closures and did not know what the future held for them.
I was at the O2 Centre in Swiss Cottage when I saw the massive black-on-yellow posters in the shop window, announcing the closing down sale. I went in to look round, but most of the stock had gone. What was left was all discounted and it was unclear what the final price would be. I picked up a few small items, such as Lamy ball pen M16 refill, marked at £3.75 but which came to only fifty pence when rung on the till. Similarly, a clear plastic ruler was only a few pence.
On visiting Bracknell recently, and also Southampton, the Paperchase stores were dark with their shutters down. I almost took a photo of the sad looking shop fronts, but it seemed like gloating.
I have been sorry to see Paperchase go. I will miss them. I read that the company had suffered years of plummeting sales and soaring costs and was a victim of the Covid lockdowns and the growing shift to online shopping.
But we had many good years. I will wait to see what becomes of Tesco’s involvement. If some of the better notebooks and journals can be offered through Tesco’s many stores, this will be some consolation.