Field Trip: Write Notepads and Co.
About a year and a half ago, I found out about Write Notepads & Co, a notebook company based in Baltimore, and I became a bit obsessed for a couple reasons: I love to support small, local businesses and I love paper. When I found their products at Trohv, a shop in the Hampden neighborhood in Baltimore, I bought a wire-bound notebook with a retro Baltimore design on the front. I was itching to use it right away but opted to make it my travel journal while in Europe this spring.
Back in March I was working at the Baltimore Washington International Pen Show, and when I found out Write Notepads was coming I totally geeked out. During vendor registration, I worked the front desk, on the lookout for the Write Notepads team…but missed meeting company founder Chris Rothe by minutes.
Later that weekend, I stopped by their table and fangirled all over him and his products. Chris is a gregarious, congenial dude who has great passion for high quality products – plus he’s a generous guy. We got the requisite selfie, he gave me a Goldfield Limited Edition notebook set and said I could come by the shop anytime for a tour.
In between my schedule and his work load, it took a few months to arrange for that tour, but last week I finally made it over to the Write Notepads shop. It’s located in the Allied Binding Company headquarters, not far from Ravens Stadium. As Chris walked me through the warehouse to the Write Notepads offices, he pointed out the machines used for the big print jobs for local unions. Bookbinding is the family business, and Chris, his dad and his brother all spend their days printing everything from training manuals to brochures. Write Notepads’ production typically happens after 4 pm, when Chris can focus on the side gig that’s turned into a successful business since its inception in 2011.
We got to the office, popped open a couple beers, and talked for several hours about everything from Baltimore life to politics, from being a small business in a niche market to passion for pens & paper.
My favorite moment was when Chris took me into the stock room. It’s small, but oh so mighty: the shelves were chock full of their notebooks, including limited edition pocket notebooks, stationery pads, reporter’s notepads with NOT YOUR ENEMY printed on the back, and the city series wirebound notebooks. I could have stayed in there all night, fondling the notebooks, but that would have been weird. Right?
While we chatted, Chris printed some covers for the new meeting notebook that will be released before year end. He’s got a couple Heidelberg Windmill printing presses that do the heavy lifting for Write Notepads.
The presses are over 50 years old and can be temperamental. I offered to play some old school R&B on my phone to mellow out the machines if the print run went all wonky. Everyone knows a little Barry White and Marvin Gaye makes it all better. Fortunately the printing went well, with just a couple small glitches.
Some quick facts about Chris and Write Notepads:
- Chris is a long-time fountain pen fan, but he also loves Blackwing pencils, Staedtler markers, even a nice ballpoint.
- He’s good buddies with many folks in the pen/paper community and credits the late Jim Rouse, manager of the Baltimore location of Bertram’s Inkwell for 15 years, for his role in getting him started with fountain pens.
- Write Notepads works with four different paper manufacturers for its notebooks and pads, all of them USA-based.
- Chris and his team test all the papers to ensure they will work well with different writing tools, whether pencil, ballpoint, rollerball or fountain pen. Read more about their process here.
- Write Notepads primarily sells direct to consumers. Chris carefully selects any retailers who want to carry Write Notepads products.
- He’s made personalized notebooks for beloved locals, such as now-former Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter and Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. Several TV and print journalists, plus celebrities Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Hanks, are avid users of Write Notepads products.
- Write Notepads donates several thousand notebooks to Baltimore City schools every year.
- Most popular item? The Reporter’s Notepad.
Many thanks to Chris for letting me come hang out with him in the shop. I’m sure I’ll be back soon…that wall of notebooks is the happiest place on earth. He also breaks out the good whiskey if you ask nicely.
Visit them online at writepads.com.