One might say Vanessa Kooby was destined to own a stationery shop. Her father, Fred Kooby, along with his business partner Joe Blacker, opened Blacker & Kooby on Madison Avenue 50 years ago. However, it’s dedication, not destiny that has made Vanessa and her family’s shop Upper East Side staples. Here, the Wharton Business School graduate talks to us about letters to camp, Zazzle and what she would ask her 19th century French painter pen pal.
When did your interest in the epistolary world begin?
I have always loved stationery and written communiques. I was a doodler as a child and always had pen pals. When I was a teenager, I collected stationery and stickers.
What’s the story behind your store’s name?
In 1963, my father, Fred Kooby, met Joe Blacker through a business broker. They decided to join forces and literally set up shop on Madison Avenue. It was a fruitful and happy partnership, and I still work with my father and have very fond memories of “Uncle” Joe.
What inspired you to open a stationery boutique?
I guess you can say I was born into it, but it is so much more than that. I have always been a visual learner and I am artistically inclined. After completing my MBA at Wharton, I did financial services marketing for Chase Manhattan Bank, but my heart was always in retail, the family business. People fascinate me, and I like establishing relationships and creating. The stationery business let me combine my visual skills and artistic sensibilities with my management training — and work with a nice clientele every day.
Why do you enjoy sending correspondence?
A well-written thank you note makes me swoon. I can still remember customers and friends who have sent me the nicest thank you notes ever. When I receive a sincere note with a nice sentiment, my opinion of the sender is magically elevated!
Additionally, receiving mail is so much fun. One summer when my daughter was at sleep away camp, I wrote random letters to her bunk mates, and it became a game. The whole bunk would wait to see who Stephanie’s mom wrote to next. My daughter will never forget that, and it was so amusing for all of us.
If you could be pen pals with anyone in history, to whom would you write and what would you say?
That is so easy! I would write to Picasso, Matisse and Bonnard, and ask them what their inspirations were for their most famous or lovely paintings. Painting is a passion of mine, and I never tire of New York City and its abundant art exhibitions and permanent collections. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to ask Pierre Bonnard what his relationship was like with all the people in his kitchen and garden paintings? It would explain their expressions and Bonnard’s treatment of them as subjects.
To whom do you most often write?
I write to my kids. My grandfather wrote me the most magnificent letters when I was growing up. He told me, “be independent and to rely on yourself.” I try to impart some life lessons on them when I get a moment, and maybe one day it will all make sense.
Describe the most memorable letter or postcard you have ever received.
Well, Letitia Baldrige did wish me good luck with all my brides, but my grandfather’s letters had the most impact.
What makes a particular letter stand out from a stack of cards?
For me it is the paper and the handwriting. If the paper feels like quality, and there is neat cursive or block print by a human being, I will take note and appreciate it.
Do you have a favorite stamp or stamp series?
I am a total Zazzle.com fanatic. When I do a stunning invitation, I cannot wait to coordinate stamps for my clients. I scan, I tweak, I create, until I am happy… and they are pleased.
What is your favorite product created by Crane & Co.?
I still love Crane Kid Finish Ecru 32 lb stock. No other paper feels so luxurious and present.
What do you think classic correspondence will look like in a decade or two?
I think we all must accept the fact that correspondence will be a combination of electronic and hard copy. Once we accept that, it actually increases the value of a written letter. As email has become so important, and texting is almost a religion, a written letter or a printed invitation really stands out. Wedding invitations and Bar/Bat Mitzvah invitations set the mood for a celebration and leave no doubt in a guest’s mind that they were not just an afterthought.
Have a question for Vanessa? Email our Crane Concierge at email@example.com.