Fahrney’s nears a century of fountain pens in D.C. regardless of covid, e-mail


The big patina-green fountain pen juts over the sidewalk on F Avenue, two blocks from the White Home, its gold nib pointing down on the entrance doorways like a command.

“Fahrney’s Pens,” the sign up calligraphy reads. Inside, the slender house with 28-foot ceilings is a cathedral to its acolytes, its objects of worship gleaming beneath glass counters. Ball or fountain. Plastic or rose gold. Metal or acrylic resin, redwood or ebony, matte or shiny.

“Permit me to dip it,” retailer supervisor Phuntsok Namgyal says softly. He bathes a nib in a bottle of blue-black ink and palms a fountain pen to a buyer, who dashes off his signature.

“Excellent,” the shopper says. “It makes you wish to write extra.”

In its 94 years, Fahrney’s has outlasted the arrival of mass-produced ballpoints, the rise of e-mail and textual content messages, and a pandemic that decimated newer downtown companies throughout it. Its endurance will be attributed to a base of loyal outdated clients, together with a brand new technology raised on the digital however enchanted by the mechanical.

However the way forward for a store devoted to luxurious pens will rely upon extra individuals wanting to jot down extra. Some components of the nation have turn into pen-shop deserts, mentioned Jonathan Weinberg, an artist and curator of the Maurice Sendak Basis in Ridgefield, Conn., a state the place he is aware of of no pen retailers. “It’s a dying breed.”

John Kelly: The handwriting is on the wall: Fountain pens are again.

One cause for Fahrney’s resilience could also be its location.

“There’s simply so many potential patrons, between senior authorities workers, regulation companies, lobbyists, accountants” in Washington, D.C., mentioned David Baker, govt director of the Writing Instrument Producers Affiliation. “There’s a important group of shoppers that like to carry a high quality writing instrument of their hand.”

Susan Ebner, 67, a lawyer from Potomac, Md., has been coming to Fahrney’s because the Nineteen Eighties; on a go to final week, she reeled off the names of pens she had purchased there and the 12 months she had purchased each. Solomon Dennis, 79, of the District got here in for refills.

“I used to be coping with this store after they have been on the Willard,” he mentioned, referring to the storied lodge. Fahrney’s moved to its present spot across the flip of the twenty first century.

Dennis, leaning on a copper-colored strolling stick, recalled the primary pen he purchased at Fahrney’s, in 1974: a Montblanc Diplomat. “It was 100 and fifty {dollars} then; I feel it’s a thousand and fifty now,” he mentioned. When he misplaced it, he cried for per week.

Pens at Fahrney’s vary from $20 to just about $5,000 and from themes like Harry Potter to King Tut. Some have historic connections, just like the Fisher Apollo, a ballpoint pen that traveled to the moon and comprises gasoline that permits it to work underwater, the other way up, in freezing temperatures and at zero gravity. A Nationwide Zoo pen options pandas.

As soon as, Fahrney’s offered a $130,000 pen “fully lined in diamonds,” retailer proprietor Chris Sullivan mentioned.

Robert Collie, 58, of Vienna, Va., inherited a Parker 51 fountain pen from his father, who died when he was 8. “Three years in the past, my mother says, ‘Oh, I forgot I had this; it was your dad’s,’” he mentioned. Final week, Collie got here to the store to purchase an analogous one for his son, who was turning 25.

“I’m considering possibly a fountain pen along with his identify engraved on it,” Collie mentioned.

Selecting a pen is private. How do you have a tendency to carry it? Is your lettering giant and crazy? Do you shut your L’s? Do you like the texture of a lightweight pen or a heavy one? Flashy or delicate? High quality tip or broad?

“It exhibits their individuality,” Sullivan mentioned.

Sullivan’s dad and mom purchased the shop in 1972 from founder Earl Fahrney. Sullivan, 62, labored within the store rising up and now co-owns it along with his sister; his 83-year-old mom remains to be working, too, within the warehouse in Higher Marlboro. (“I can’t get her to cease,” he mentioned.)

Fahrney used to inform of how the shop as soon as equipped the White Home, Sullivan recounted, aides “operating down the road, knocking on his door after the store closed.”

These days, in-person purchases account for simply 15 % of gross sales; the remaining is on-line and catalogue, he mentioned. Nonetheless, the pandemic hit the store laborious. Its doorways closed for 3 months, and enterprise nonetheless hasn’t returned to what it was. “Look throughout the road,” Sullivan mentioned, gesturing at papered-over store home windows. “It’s horrible.”

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Worse have been the lives misplaced throughout covid: Chuck Edwards, who repaired pens at Fahrney’s for 3 and a half a long time; Elizabeth Spinks-Bunn, who taught calligraphy and cursive courses; and Sullivan’s father, Jon. The store now shows Edwards’s neatly folded navy-blue work uniform, “The Pen Physician” embroidered on its entrance, in a shadow field by his restore bench.

The shop nonetheless does repairs, although it’s getting more durable to seek out components. It additionally sells stationery, journals, inks and calligraphy books, a small bulwark towards the drift of a rustic that way back dropped handwriting courses from faculty curriculums.

And but the technology that didn’t be taught cursive has one way or the other fallen for fountain pens — and their curiosity helps drive demand. The common age of consumers at Fahrney’s is 60, however it’s dropping, Sullivan mentioned.

“There’s a whole lot of younger patrons — ‘younger’ being individuals of their 30s — paying $1,200 for a pen,” mentioned Baker, the affiliation director. “From what I hear, throughout covid, a whole lot of collectibles and high quality objects grew to become important as individuals had time to browse and take a look at these items.”

Developments like city sketching and journaling have helped spur curiosity in fountain pens particularly, mentioned Weinberg, who owns round 250 of them. “With a ballpoint pen, your hand tends to get a bit cramped,” he mentioned. “Your hand form of flies throughout the web page with a fountain pen.”

Like many old-school applied sciences, they do have drawbacks: the ink staining your palms once you fill them, the chance of leaks on planes. However for younger individuals, who’re embracing typewriters and vinyl, the glitches are a part of the appeal.

“Simply as with data, you had all of the scratches and skipping,” Weinberg mentioned. “Younger individuals don’t have that historical past, so they have an inclination to romanticize.”

And so it was final week {that a} gaggle of younger individuals, members of the live performance choir at Otterbein College in central Ohio, skidded to a cease beneath the large pen out entrance, mouths agape.

Connor Rosenberger, a 19-year-old music main with flowing blond hair, had been trying to find a fountain pen in each city the choir had visited on its tour. He mentioned he takes notes in school by hand, as a result of “psychology research present you keep the data higher,” and journals “on a regular basis.” However there are not any pen retailers the place he lives.

“It’s like a sweet retailer for me,” Rosenberger mentioned, standing in the course of Fahrney’s, as if not sure the place to show. “A really costly sweet retailer.”

For his choir mates, too. Teddy McIntyre, a 21-year-old redhead with a denim jacket and a mustache, mentioned he writes precise letters to family members. “It’s form of like opening a gift, as a substitute of getting an e-mail despatched to you. And it provides me an excuse to make use of my wax seal,” he mentioned. And Anna Kate Scott, 22, mentioned she writes novels and quick tales by pen “as a result of I really feel extra like I’m in it, relatively than separated from it by a display.”

On the counter, Rosenberger pointed at pen after pen, and Namgyal took each out for him to attempt.

“That is so thrilling,” Scott mentioned. “You must inform your mother that you simply discovered a complete fountain pen retailer!”

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Rosenberger hesitated. The pen he was eyeing, an orange and black Monteverde Regatta Sport, price $90. “She doesn’t like my obsession,” he mentioned. “She’s like, ‘You solely want one.’”

Quickly, he was on the telephone along with her.

“I’ve purchased nothing,” he relayed. “I truly broke one in all my associates’ bracelets, and he or she didn’t ask me to, however I purchased her a brand new one … and I purchased myself a brand new ring that was 5 bucks.”

His associates have been taking part in with a four-foot reproduction of a Shaeffer fountain pen. They posed for images with it. McIntyre held it up like a Bazooka.

Rosenberger obtained off the decision along with his mother.

“She mentioned use your greatest judgment,” he mentioned.

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