LIKE kids in a lolly shop, those who enter Honest Paper's new "dream" store at the East End are drawn to its wax sealing bar.
"They come in, can grab an empty pot and scoop the wax colours they like in, then we have stamps," co-owner Bella Cauchi explains, adding with a laugh, "We're probably the only wax sealing bar in the world, we're claiming it!"
Honest Paper was founded by graphic designer friends Mrs Cauchi and Gabi Graham in 2016. They first opened at The Junction, selling sustainable, ethical and locally-made cards and stationery (some of it designed and made by them), gift-wrapping paper, journals and related items made by Australian designers.
READ MORE: The beginnings of Honest Paper
Not a lot has changed since then, however their focus has definitely sharpened.
"We are leaning into the stationary world and trying to be very speciality with it," Mrs Cauchi says.
With its feature "card arch" or "portal to card heaven", pen plinths and custom joinery featuring their curated range, the new Wolfe Street store is a tactile oasis for those who appreciate old-school communication, be it letter writing or journaling.
"We have really defined who we are, we have leaned in to our genius zone. We are not trying to be a gift shop anymore or a small paper shop, we are doing stationery," says Mrs Cauchi.
"We love people and we want to give something special to Newcastle and want to support local brands.
"We call ourselves stationary enthusiasts and want to create a place for people who are the same, there is something special about a shop specifically for something. And our theory is everyone loves stationery."
While Honest Paper cards might have messages on the front, the inside is deliberately blank to encourage customers to write heart-felt thoughts inside.
"That's the point of a card," says Mrs Cauchi.
"Cards are hugely important and essential, a card is like a coffee you can consume everyday but we curate carefully and everything is done on purpose."
With hopes of ramping up their own in-house products, the women are proud that many of the Australian brands they began with have also grown with them.
The wax sealing "bar" is a collaboration with Melbourne brand Sea + Paper, allowing customers to choose one or a blend of wax 'beads', a special wax melt burner, and stamps which can also be customised.
When the pandemic emerged, the women opted to close their store at The Junction and moved it relatively seamlessly online, where they already had a strong presence, and were supported by Job Keeper.
"I remember putting up on Insta a message saying, 'We have chosen to close but please continue to support us.' We genuinely thought we would go under," she recalls.
Instead, people continued to buy online, with its services including corporate gifting and card subscriptions.
"We definitely saw a letter writing push during lockdown and I think people did focus on the simple things a bit more. People wanted to connect with family and friends and couldn't do it in person," says Mrs Cauchi.
While digitalisation continues to change the world, she believes there will always be a place for hard paper.
"People come in and say, 'Why have a stationery shop? Everything is going digital!'. We love digital but there's a true desire for people to do things the slow way," she says.
Many customers love dated diaries, coming in to confess they tried to go digital but felt the necessity of a paper and pen.
"Some people deep down say there's no feeling like pen and paper," Mrs Cauchi says.
"Most people are moving back to diaries, we sell thousands, they start to arrive in October, people want to get behind our Australian brands."
The women decided to move into the East End as part of a collective with veteran retailers including Mr Sister Coffee, Studio Melt + High Tea With Mrs Woo.
"The power of our businesses together helps, the location and just the general belief that the city is getting more interesting and there's more tourism," Mrs Cauchi says.
"People still want an interaction with people, "I love online shopping but there is nothing like going into a store. People are human and desire connection."
After almost five years in business, she still gets a kick from seeing customer reactions to the card range.
"There's nothing like seeing someone tear up when they have read a card or find a product that speaks to them - it's personal," she says.
Honest Paper began not so much because there was a need but a desire.
"I listen to business podcasts and they say there was a need in the market - I think we were too young to know," says Mrs Cauchi, who was heavily pregnant with her first child when the business opened and now has two young children.
"Now I know what mothers require and all the cards for the friends, but when we started were were young, we just wanted something that didn't exist for people like us who love pens, card, gift-wrapping."
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