Friday, November 9, 2012

Boswell Resurrects an Old Tradition--The Paper Handled Holiday Shopping Bag.

Many of you may know that I have, over the years, amassed a huge collection of paper handled shopping bags. It now sits in bins in my basement, slowly deteriorating. The collection is not active because my focus was on the old classic department stores, and they simply aren’t around anymore. I’m not really interested in national chains—I really liked places with a center of gravity, with large flagships that were clearly the mothership. I should note that these stores were often not locally owned, and played the big bad retailer to smaller independents, much the way mass merchants and low-cost websites do today.

I’d collect the everyday bags, for sure, but I particularly looked forward to the Christmas bags, as they often changed every year.

This season we’re displaying some of my old Boston Store Christmas bags on the art wall. I may not have always loved the designs, but I've gotta love their Milwaukee roots and the fact that many of the centralized operations of Bon Ton, their parent company, are still based here. And "Boston Store" does have a universality about it, as there were dozens of unrelated American stores named Boston Store, which referred to a store with Boston quality goods.

You can only imagine that over the years I worked at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, I asked David Schwartz about whether we’d ever do a handled shopping bag. All he could think about was his friend at Doubleday Bookstores (he had worked there for several years before taking over his dad’s business) who told him how much they spent on each customer no peripherals (bags, wrap, and so forth). It wasn’t going to happen.*

But one of the things I had contemplated when I opened Boswell was that there was no longer anyone telling me I couldn’t have a paper handled bag. And so we did one. We commissioned Aaron Boyd, the unofficial Duke of Downer Avenue, to make this design inspired by The Wind in the Willows, which I should note, was the favorite children’s book of both David Schwartz and his mom, Reva. It took us over a year to make this work. I may have already talked about the roadblocks we ran into last year while trying to put this together.

And we all know it’s akin to a glorified grocery bag with fancier handles and better artwork. I certainly didn’t expect to have one of those glossy, multi-colored beauties like the ones from Marshall Field’s and my other favorite stores. I kept the cost in check with kraft paper and one color printing. But it’s still nice, isn’t it?

The price is higher than our plastic bag (which is thick enough to be reusable, making it more expensive than the ones you get in grocery stores. There’s minimum purchase of $10 to get the bag, but if you want to buy it, it’s 50 cents, including tax. Our friend John suggested we try to find one of those old bag dispensing machines you used to see at every department store. If only!

*At least, not then. Now a lot of communities are banning thinner plastic bags, but I should note that the Schwartz plastic bags, like ours, are thick enough to be reused and don’t fall under those guidelines. However, in some places, you do have to pay for the bag.

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