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Retailer Spotlight: Black Ink

by Sabrina Garber

If you’ve ever been to Boston, chances are you’ve had the pleasure of shopping at one of the quirky yet quaint Black Ink shops. We could spend all day browsing Susan’s selection of unique and fun gifts, handy housewares, and pretty stationery and supplies all beautifully stacked from floor to ceiling. Don’t say we didn’t forewarn you, you’ll be hard pressed not to find several items that you just have to have! Though Black Ink has been a longtime customer of ours, we realized we knew little about the shop’s beginnings. Fortunately, Susan kindly offered to give us the scoop …

Retailer Spotlight: Black Ink | Blog | Smudge Ink(image: Susan stocking shelves)

When did Black Ink open? What was the inspiration or motivation behind the opening of a brick and mortar store? Is there a story behind the name?

Black Ink was formed/created in 1994 at 101 Charles Street in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, back in the day when there were no on-line stores! Initially inspired by images from our collection of vintage books and ephemera, we designed and made thousands of rubber stamps from these detailed images to sell along with ink and stationery to stamp on. As black was my favorite ink color to rubber stamp with we named the store Black Ink, eventually becoming Black Ink, Inc.

Retailer Spotlight | Blog | Smudge Ink(image: Black Ink's Beacon Hill storefront)

When I look back on photos of the newly opened store I laugh at how sparse it was! Still we were determined to build up our inventory and along the way we played and experimented with adding many new categories and unusual items. Over years of trial and error we designed our floor to ceiling green shelves to display our ever changing merchandise and our greeting card “islands” to stock an ever expanding assortment of cards. In 2002 we had an opportunity to join the Harvard Square community, and we opened our second Black Ink at 5 Brattle Street in Cambridge (our hometown).

Retailer Spotlight: Black Ink | Blog | Smudge Ink(image: Rory and Finn, then and now!)

Do you have a fun fact about Black Ink that most people wouldn’t know?

Many people do not know that Black Ink is truly a family business. It was founded by my late husband Tim and myself, and we were soon joined by our first child, Rory, in 1995. She came to work with us as an infant and grew up “playing store.” Our son Finn was born in 1999 and has many memories of playing hide and seek in the store basements and making change as an eight year old at the cash register. Today both kids work part-time at the stores, so we’ve come full circle!

Retailer Spotlight: Black Ink | Blog | Smudge Ink(image: Black Ink's Harvard Square storefront)

What do you love about your shop’s neighborhood?

We are lucky to be part of two iconic neighborhoods, Beacon Hill and Harvard Square. Both neighborhoods are destinations for travelers worldwide and have very active residential and business communities. We love seeing our “regulars” and also meeting new students and residents as they arrive each year. Many customers (and former staff members) come back to visit us whenever they are in town, as many have scattered around the world.

What’s the most memorable thing that has happened in your store?

So many memories, hard to say what would be my favorite. Each day unfolds differently; to me it’s like an interactive installation—ever-changing, but always consistently participatory.

Retailer Spotlight: Black Ink | Blog | Smudge Ink(image: Black Ink shelves)

What’s your favorite Smudge Ink product?

The “local” Smudge Boston & Cambridge cards and canvas bags are classics. There’s lots of pride in our communities and our visiting customers love to take something truly local home with them.

What song or album is playing in your shop right now?

Much to my younger staff’s amusement/horror, I choose the playlists and they are a bit heavy on classic yet eclectic artists like Wilco, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell …

Thanks, Susan! We love that Black Ink is a true family business. If you've become a shop fan like us, keep up with Black Ink here, here, and here.

(image sources: Black Ink)

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