“You will always, at some point, need a pen”

The Vancouver Pen Shop | BCBusiness
Margot McRae, owner of The Vancouver Pen Shop

Margot McRae, owner of The Vancouver Pen Shop, has found a surprising new market for fountain pens: high school students

We don’t expect people to buy a pen every time they come in—people can drop by, see what they like and it’s our social life as much as it is our business. We have a couple of customers who are here every Saturday morning for coffee. They started coming when their son was a year old, and he’s now 21.

The store was originally owned by Paul and Margaret Leveque. Paul used to do repairs, and he was a wholesaler for Parker, Sheaffer and Cross. Margaret opened the business in 1986 with another friend, and I joined them a year later. Eventually Paul, who worked upstairs, closed his office and came down and joined us. Paul passed away in 2004, and before Margaret passed away four years ago, we made an arrangement for me to take it over. The shop girls—Shannon and Fernie—were already here. They’ve both been here for 20 years.

Paul and Margaret were old school, and they didn’t buy anything that they couldn’t pay for. We’ve kept it the same way; everything in the store is paid for, and we haven’t had to run on credit. We have never really strived to be much larger than what we are.

The price range in the store is anywhere from $2.79 for a basic pen to $3,000 for a high-end fountain pen. Those are usually special editions: they’re numbered, and they’ll always have a solid gold nib. The nicest part of a gold nib is that it wears to your hand, and it will be personally yours. We’re finding a lot of young high-school students are becoming intrigued by fountain pens. They’ve never tried them and they want one. And there are some very reasonable ones for $20 or $30.

We get all types of people coming in: little tiny kids right up to politicians. When Gordon Campbell was premier, he was a major customer. He liked fountain pens, and after some major transactions, he’d buy another one, so they signified something to him. We also get a lot of doctors, lawyers and judges—people who sign things. I always say that people may not need them as much as they used to, but you will always, at some point, need a pen.   

The Vancouver Pen Shop, 512 West Hastings St., Vancouver