Monday, April 15, 2024

Reporters notebooks were among the office supplies found at Bob Slate, our defunct local stationers. (Photo: Roger H. Goun)

Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, we were asked about back-to-school shopping.

Without kids, I miss out on back-to-school shopping, and memories of my own excursions are hazy at best. Possibly because I was such an indifferent student I don’t remember a single one, although I know some of the shopping trips taken with my mom must have by default fallen within summer, meaning whatever was bought then by default must have been used when I returned to school in the fall. But if there were trips conducted with solemnity or celebration as formal, momentous back-to-school excursions, they might as well have been in preparation for Newspaper Carrier Day (Sept. 4) or Make Your Bed Day (Sept. 11) for all the impact they had on me.

And this is odd, because oh boy do I love me some office supplies.

The loss of our hallowed local stationers, the three-store Bob Slate chain, is particularly sad for me because of the incredible variety of stuff they stocked. For relatively small spaces, the stores were astonishingly rich in selection. I could even wander in at crisis times, utterly depleted and desperate on my way to covering a meeting, and buy a single or 12-pack of reporters notebooks, and that’s about as uncommon an item as you can expect to find without special order.

(I think the only shopping experience that has impressed me more was stopping into the Harvard Square branch of Newbury Comics with two hours until a birthday celebration looking specifically and only for a CD of William S. Burroughs’ 13-year-old spoken word album “Dead City Radio.” That’s a ridiculously obscure recording to rely on, especially in what’s more or less a boutique space, not a megastore like they have in the suburbs. But Newbury Comics had it. A terrible lesson for procrastinators everywhere, and it certainly was for me.)

Wandering the aisles of Bob Slate made me want to buy everything. The art supplies beguiled me into thinking I would draw again — in fact, they regularly inspired plans to set up a home studio and commit myself to the craft — and the office supplies made images of entrepreneurialism and empire-building blossom in my brain. It’s been a while, but Staples, when I had to, was even worse in that regard, since the size of the stores in the big-box chain allows the stocking and sale of office furniture as well. In my mind, I would be stocking and outfitting entire floors with desks, rolling chairs, shelving and wastebaskets, as well as machines for copying, faxing and shredding. I could stand and debate storage systems with myself for hours for businesses that didn’t and would never exist. I had to restrain myself from buying gigantic packs of snacks for co-workers I didn’t and would never have. I probably wouldn’t have shared anyway.

It’s not clear to me why someone who cared so little about schoolwork came to care with such near-erotic intensity about office work. I suspect, though, that it may be better I don’t have kids needing my help for back-to-school shopping, since I would likely buy out the store to ensure they had enough pencils, erasers, pens, pads, binders, folders, lamps, desks, chairs and trashcans (and, um, clothes, right?) for an entire academy.

And I’d probably do it at the last possible minute.