CW Pencil Enterprise pays homage to the humble pencil. Established as an online shop in 2014 by Caroline Weaver, an amateur pencil collector and lifelong pencil lover, CW Pencil Enterprise opened it’s first brick & mortar store on New York’s Lower East Side the following year. Filled with pencils and related products from around the world, CW Pencil Enterprise, acts like a pencil museum, educating customers about the origins of and the making process Now an authority on pencils, their history and stories, Caroline has authored a book, The Pencil Perfect. Visit the NYC shop during Happy Hour, when CW Pencil Enterprise customizes pencils with their 1960’s hot foil press.
Why were you inspired to open a pencil shop? I’ve had a deep love of pencils as an object since childhood and have acquired knowledge about them over the years. The idea of having a shop that sells pencils from all over the world was the made-up dream retirement job but then I realized that there might actually be a market for it, as quality writing instruments are becoming increasingly hard to find in the US and the demand for them is increasing with the renewed interest in analog tools that’s happening now.
Did you have prior retail experience? My job before I opened the shop was in retail/customer service.
Why did you choose the name CW Pencil Enterprise? I knew that no matter what I named the shop people would just call it “the pencil shop” so I chose to give it a really old school business-y name, one that takes itself seriously but is a little playful.
Who designed the shop? I designed the shop myself! My mother is an interior designer, so I’ve been learning from her all my life.
What are your best selling items? We’re known for selling a lot of smaller brands that are really hard to find and for selling super specialty pencils. We’re known for sharing stories and an immense amount of knowledge about the makeup and history of the things that we sell. People come here for great pencils but also for the story behind them.
Where do you source your products from? Our products mostly sourced directly from manufacturer from all over the world, from Pakistan to Portugal to Japan and even India—they come from just about any place that’s still making pencils. We’ve worked really hard to forge relationships with all of the small, old brands from all over the world.
What makes your shop unique? My shop is unique because we’re dedicated to a single object, one that we know a lot about and care deeply about. We’re not just selling objects but also a feeling of nostalgia and the freedom of a simple tool. As a specialty shop we work really hard to help people understand and get to know all of the products on a deeper level.
Who are your customers? We have all sorts of customers! We see lots of editors, writers, artists, lawyers and teachers and also people who use pencils on a daily basis are just really interested in analog tools. The one thing I can say about our customers is that they’re all really happy to be shopping in a pencil shop. No grumpy customers can be found here!
How has the internet impacted your business? Our business started online and our online store runs alongside our physical one. It helps because it allows our reach to be broader but it doesn’t affect our in-store traffic that much because we sell tactile things that people generally want to see, feel and test so most of our local customers prefer to shop in-store and most of our online customers stop by when they’re in town.
Caroline Weaver, The Shopkeeper at CW Pencil Enterprise
Who inspires you? I interned for Isaac Mizrahi when I was barely 18. I’d never been around someone before who was so particular about the integrity of materials and so genuinely excited and invested in their work. He definitely set a lifelong example for me.
What inspires you? Sunday Morning, which is a program in CBS is the #1 thing that brings me weekly inspiration. It was started in 1970 by Charles Kuralt who wanted to create sort of television magazine about the “gentler subjects” and I’ve been watching it every Sunday for my whole life. The stories that they share every week, whether they be about history, a celebrity, a small town in the middle of nowhere or even the Moment of Nature at the end of the show—it’s the one bit of culture that I consume regularly that really makes me feel like I’m learning something and reassures me that despite all of the horrible things we see on the news that the world we live in is a really incredible place. I can’t start my week without it.
Before I was a shopkeeper, I…. was dreaming of owning a shop. I’ve had a few identity crisis as a young adult but that was always the one things that I knew I’d do someday. I loved imagining shelves of organized boxes, the music I’d play, the price labels I’d use—it’s all the little details that I’d obsess about.
The hardest lesson learned in starting a business? When I first opened the shop I was naive about all of the little admin things that go into running a business, like the bookkeeping and back of house stuff. I wish I’d taken a bit more time to learn about those things before opening because truthfully, I spend at much time doing that stuff as I spend in the actual shop.
What task do you like to delegate? Caitlin takes care of all of the tech stuff like keeping our website up and running, finding shipping solutions and doing our mailing list—those are all things I’m not good at and find very frustrating. I’m definitely not a computer person.
The best lesson you have learned opening a shop? The best lesson I’ve learned is to make sure that I always do things passionately and genuinely. People can tell when a business is run by a person who really really cares and so it’s important to me to always make sure that we’re executing every aspect of the business to exude that.
Your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? Trust your gut and do things slowly and thoughtfully.
Which famous person would you like to visit your shop? Tom Hanks! He’s a typewriter enthusiast and also one of my favorite people. I’d probably have a heart attack if he walked through the door.
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be..? I love to think I’d be a writer of some sort. The two careers I wish I’d pursued in hindsight are screenwriting and television journalism (mostly because my ultimate dream job is to be the host of Sunday Morning on CBS).
What is your perfect day off? My perfect day off includes a few hours of letter-writing, preferably in the Rose Reading room on the New York Public Library or a nice cafe somewhere. I’d do that in the morning and then probably have lunch somewhere nice, just me and a good book. Maybe in the afternoon I’d catch a movie at the Sunshine Cinema or the Angelika. In the evening I’d cook dinner at home with my boyfriend, Fed and then go to bed really early.
I wish I could…get everyone in the world to give their pencil a second thought! There are so many normal objects around us that have such crazy and rich histories that are often over looked, the pencil is one of them. It’s a great example of perfect design, though it took centuries to arrive at the pencil as we know it.
On the Future of Retail
“I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the future of retail. People are shopping differently now. The internet serves its purpose for online shopping but people are starting to crave the experience of going to an actual shop more and more, if not because it’s necessary because it’s a pleasurable thing to do. If a physical shop is going to exist and be successful it either needs to fill a void or it needs to provide a really unique and special experience.”
15 Orchard Street, New York NY