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  December 25, 2008 Issue                                       

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©2007 The Chestnut Hill Local

The Paperia: 25 years of success in Chestnut Hill
by LARRY SIEGEL

Husband and wife George and Marsi Breslau, from left, are seen here with staff members Ben Barbash, Linn Vaghters and Beth Marsh at Paperia, 8521 Germantown Ave., which the Breslaus have operated for 25 years. (Photo by Erin Vertreace)

Husband and wife George and Marsi Breslau were a bit at odds with each  other when deciding what type of stationery store to open in 1983.

George, with a chain-store background, had grand visions of franchising; Marsi, on the other hand, wanted more of a ‘boutique’y’ look —  a place that was neat and clean and that had a well-rounded selection of contemporary products. Marsi won out, and when The Paperia opened its doors at 8521 Germantown Ave., it took only a few months for the store to be in the black.

Twenty-five years later, with a second store in the historic Suburban Square shopping area located in Ardmore, The Paperia continues to thrive by offering a unique, relevant merchandise mix and good old-fashioned service.

At first, the Breslaus encountered some hesitance from customers looking for more traditional merchandise, but, says Marsi, “I grew up in the area and instinctively knew that times had changed and people were ready for what we had to offer.”

Among their first card lines offered were those from alternative companies such as Paper Moon, Peacock Papers, Marcel Schurman and Recycled Paper. “People loved naughty stuff then, lots of humorous cards, lines that were ‘hip.’ The year we opened, there was a designer named Mary Quant, who was big in the fashion industry and who launched a line of mix-and-match stationery — groundbreaking then, probably wouldn’t look twice at now — and it ‘blew out,’ to use a favorite expression of the early ’80s,” she says.

Going the “boutique” route has enhanced Marsi Breslau’s ability to project what her customers want and what to buy for The Paperia. “As the owner/manager of the original 750-square-foot store in Chestnut Hill, I dealt directly with customers and had my finger on the pulse of what they wanted, something that wouldn’t happen in a chain-store scenario,” she states, mentioning that she rarely reorders the same merchandise twice.

“Constantly having new and wonderful things kept our customers coming back and buying, and it wasn’t long before we realized what I was doing at Chestnut Hill could be done by George in another location — what turned out to be at Suburban Square, one of the oldest outdoor malls in the country. Since both stores serve the same well-to-do socioeconomic community, we benefit by now having two sets of fingers on the pulse of our customers.”

While each store has a different interior design layout, the product mix is the same at both locations. Yet, even though the original location almost doubled in size to 1,400 square feet in 2003, the Suburban Square location, currently at 750 square feet, does 20 percent more in sales due to being a destination location.

Marsi admits that it’s getting harder for The Paperia to stay “unusual” when new retail competitors keep showing up, such as gas stations and beauty salons. To help keep their competitive edge, the Breslaus rely on shopping the National Stationery Show in New York City each May. “We’ve gone to the National Stationery Show ever since we’ve been in business, and we like buying the small independent companies’ cards we find there,” she relates.

The Breslaus also emphasize that personalized service may be a dying art elsewhere, but not at The Paperia. “We know 75 percent of our regular customers by name. We love our business and have made a profession out of it by going to school and reading etiquette books, so that our customers know that they can ask us any question and we’ll have the answer for them,” says Marsi, noting that such service has gained the store many longtime customers.

“We have a number of customers that moved to other regions in the country. They call us up and give us the details of an event; tell us to pick out the invitations, type styles and ink colors, then print and send them whatever we choose. To us, it’s the height of confidence and the basis for our success.”

As seen in Greetings etc.’s November/December 2008 issue. Copyright 2008 by Edgell Communications. All rights reserved. Reprinted, with permission.