The New York City Pen Pilgrimage
A couple months ago, my wife and I had arranged to have a Saturday to ourselves where we could take a much-needed few hours alone while relatives watched the little ones. Being the type of people who like more to explore and find fun things to do on the cheap, we decided to make a trip- a pilgrimage, of sorts- to nearby New York City to find specialist stores in our respective hobbies.
My wife is an avid crocheter. Avid. We have not bought a wedding gift for people in years, opting instead to give people nice homemade presents. She makes everything from toys to clothes to decorations to dolls.
Like me and writing, she knew there was something she liked to do, but didn’t think too much about where things could go if you really dove into it. She was content with generic Red Heart yarn you can buy at your local department store, or whatever Michael’s had on sale.
The other more expensive stuff seemed superfluous, because honestly, it’s just yarn, right? I mean, it’s just a pen… who cares about it as long as it writes??
A day trip to Web’s Yarn Store in Northampton, MA (self-professed “America’s Yarn Store,” making them the Dallas Cowboys of yarn, I guess) changed her. She spent hours learning from helpful store clerks about textures, colors, makes, materials, and everything else about what different kinds of yarn meant. She came home with a plethora of interesting stuff, and now is constantly excited by discovering new kinds of yarn- just like my day of revelation in Lake Placid.
So with our free Saturday, we made plans to find the best pen and yarn shops we could within walking distance. As a happy coincidence, they all managed to be on or no more than a block or two off the Avenue of the Americas.
It was a beautiful summer day when we got there, and we parked our car after somehow finding parking near Bryant Park. Not really near, but for NYC, damn close. We cut through the full park and headed across the street to our first target.
Stop #1: Kinokuniya Bookstores, 1073 Avenue of the Americas
Kinokuniya is first billed as a Japanese bookstore. And it is, primarily. When you walk in, it looks like a regular bookstore, just with a bunch of books in Japanese too. Having only heard about this place from message board posts and such, we first went upstairs. Nothing but rows and rows and rows of manga. Hm.
We headed back down, and noticed there was a basement. We went down. And…oh my god.
I was almost shaking when I stood in front of it. Overwhelmed. Just… so many pens. So many. And so many types.
I spent what felt like a solid hour in front of these racks. They had little pads of paper, and there was one open “sample” pen in each partition. Want to try each size of the Zebra Sarasa? Sure! Want to check out these weird German pens? Go ahead! There were a few that looked neat, but the moment pen touched paper, blech. I pulled a few off the rack and a few from down below.
I usually feel awkward taking photos in a retail store and most employees don’t like it, but I was able to get these photos. What you don’t see in these is the counter for the fancier pens- things like rollerballs specialty collectors.
The store was very crowded, and there were just SO MANY pens, and I had several stores yet to see so I didn’t want to blow my whole budget here. It was, honestly, almost too much. There was so much selection that I could barely make heads or tails.
As a stylophile, this place is amazing. So much good paper, so many pens, so much variety, that I wasn’t sure if I could top this. If you’re anywhere near New York, and like pens or are just curious, in all seriousness you need to visit this store.
Eventually, I pulled myself away with a modest haul, though I could have spent way more time and money there. But we had a plan- we had to stick to it.
Stop #2: MUJI, 16 W 19th St
I had heard from a number of people of a Japanese department store chain called MUJI. It was explained to me as a kind of “Japanese IKEA,” and after visiting, I can say that is an incredibly accurate statement.
The store itself is very… I don’t know, calming? It’s a lot of soft colors, soft lighting, and a huge variety of MUJI brand stuff. Comforters, aromatherapy gadgets, shoes, decorations, and, of course, pens. Like everything else, their pens are proprietary. They don’t have “names” but are distinguished by the type- ballpoint, rollerball, etc.
The pens had a bit of a cheap feel to them, like an imported Bic. But they wrote well, were unique, so I decided to chance it with a few. I walked away with a Rollerpoint, Ballpoint, Gel, and a dual-sided pen with a marker on the opposite end. I thought about picking up their knurled aluminum fountain pen, but ultimately decided against- which I’ve heard wasn’t the worst decision.
I was a little let down by the pen selection, but I didn’t hate it. But going to MUJI ended up being pretty great, because only a few doors down I stumbled onto another shop I hadn’t heard of prior.
Stop #3: Paper Presentation, 23 W 18th St
Paper presentation doesn’t bill itself as a pen store. They’re a stationery store. Lots of paper goods- books, invitations, journals, cards, the like. But where there’s paper- there are pens.
I was delighted when I found the rack. So many colors!
A lot of the pens they had I already had in my collection, though. A lot of the entry-level stuff, Pilots, uni-balls, Zebras, that kind of thing. All really great pens, but ones a little more easily found than some of the imports Kinokuniya had. But I did end up picking up some cool stuff- including the fun Gelly Roll which was soon commandeered by my wife.
Another great thing was their ink rack.
They had just about every kind of refill you can imagine, including the Montblanc rollerball refills I used to modify my Pilot G2 Limited a few months ago on the blog.
But where Paper Presentation really excelled was, unsurprisingly, paper.
So much of it, and so much variety. As a prolific journaler, I was torn between all the different kinds. I eventually settled on a full-size Clairefontaine notebook. The paper is so nice, I’m embarrassed to say I’m almost hesitant to use it. Too big to use as a journal and too nice for daily work notes, I’m saving it for when I’ve got something proper to write, I guess. Besides a letter I owe back to my friend Andy, though, I don’t know what I’ll end up doing with it. Willing it to my kids, probably.
We had one stop left, and it was a haul. But we hoofed it all the way down to Greenwich Village for the last pen stop of the day.
Stop #4: Stevdan Stationers, 474 Ave of the Americas
Stevdan’s Yelp profile’s top review claims they are the “Best Pen Shop in New York City!” and I have to say, they’re probably not far off. While lacking the glitz of Kinokuniya’s presentation, their variety is huge. The store is much smaller, and there are employees all around, so I felt pretty awkward taking a photo but I wished I could have.
Unique in Stevdan was that in addition to their excellent selection of modestly-priced pens, they also had several cases of many mid-range to higher-end pens, including brands like Caran d’Ache, Sheaffer, Cross, Montblanc, Waterford, etc. Not cheap- upwards of $700- but if you’re more of a connoisseur than me (I prefer the thrill of finding modest pens I haven’t seen and getting a new writing experience for a few bucks) then this is a great place.
After Kinokuniya, I bought the 2nd-most pens here. Some pretty neat stuff- including the Pilot Bravo! marker which has become one of my favorite writing instruments bar none. Stevdan also has an excellent selection of paper. They have almost a whole aisle of Rhodia products, which any fountain pen enthusiast will tell you is the best paper to be had for them.
Following what probably looked like an inordinate amount of time for one person to stare at rack of pens, it was getting late and we wanted to grab some dinner before we had to be parents again. But overall I had an excellent day, got to sample a ton of new pens, and came away with a pretty respectable haul:
Kuretake Zig Letter Pen CocoIro
PaperMate Liquid Flair
Marvy Le Pen
Pilot Super GP 1.6
Staetdler Liquid Point
Sakura Gelly Roll
Pilot V-Ball Grip
Stabilo Point 88
Seltzer Products 7-Year Pen