I have always admired fiery, entrepreneurial women who can pull themselves up by their bootstraps in the midst of life's challenges. Behind Mrs. John L. Strong Fine Stationery, the fashion couture equivalent in bespoke paper orders, is a woman who did just that. Flora Strong started selling stationery out of her sister's trousseau shop after the 1929 stock market crash, and grew to sell in top department stores and to celebrities and royalty until her death in 1979.
New owners expanded the business after Flora's death and then sold to designer and socialite Nannette Brown and her husband in 2002. But people weren't buying uber-luxe stationery during the recession and Mrs. John L. Strong declared bankruptcy in 2009. Despite this, Strong is beginning to thrive under new ownership. New Orleans native Jacqueline Kotts purchased the company soon after the bankruptcy and moved to New York to run it. I visited with Jacqueline in her Madison Avenue office and instantly wanted to be friends. She remembers falling in love with the stationery on a visit to Barneys. "The handwritten note isn't dead, but very much alive," Kotts says. "It should be a part of our lives because it makes such a huge impression."
Eighty-two years after it began, Mrs. John L. Strong unveiled a tiny, new 100-square-foot retail store at 699 Madison Avenue in New York, a treasure box for their "ready-to-write" selections. For custom orders on calling cards, wedding invitations, holiday cards and more, the main office remains upstairs on the 5th floor, where it has been for 30 years. But hand-stamped, hand-engraved and hand-lined stationery does not come at a bargain price, with boxes of 12 cards starting in the $80 range.