Most New Yorkers have a hobby to take them away from a busy day. Some choose to run, others may choose to make art or sing. Whatever it may be, these hobbies are usually a brief escape from a long day of work.
For Anna Chiang, owner of The Ink Pad, one of NYC’s only rubber stamp shops, it’s more than just that.
Chiang, a small business owner who’s turned her passion for art and rubber stamps into the business she owns today, is currently confronting the trials and tribulations that all independent shops in NYC are now facing.
“Business is a bit slower. A typical day, we open from 11 to 6,” said Chiang. “So we have a little bit shorter hours, even now we close at six instead of seven. We’re closed on Sundays, which is unusual, we always used to be open seven days, but I just don’t have enough staff. And there’s not enough street traffic to be open seven days.”
A typical pre-pandemic day for Chiang included helping customers navigate through the collection of over 10,000 stamps within the shop. These included flowers, animals, celebrities and everything in between.
Unfortunately, The Ink Pad’s move from their location in the West Village to their new West 19th Street location came right before the first major quarantine.
“We were open for 22 years in the West Village,” Chiang said. “Last year, February 29, we opened up in Chelsea. We were open for two weeks, and then we were closed for three months. And then as soon as I could, which was June 25, I came back and I started just being here like, three, four hours a day, just to get things moving. I couldn’t be home anymore.”
During the three month quarantine period, Chiang focused on refurbishing the online store, as well as checking in on the store in hopes that she would be able to physically reopen, even if it would be at reduced capacity.
“I was literally just shipping stuff from my house as much as I could and then coming in and checking on the store every once in a while,” she said.
Even now, with her store open to the public, Chiang says a work day just doesn’t flow the same way.
“Basically, I come in and I start packing orders, which is very different,” Chiang said. “It’s a little sad sometimes because, although we need the business and I’m happy to do business any which way we can, It’s not the same. I like to be here. I like to talk to people. I like to see people.”
These conditions have forced Chiang and her coworkers to be more creative with the methods they are allowed to take.
Zoom classes on card-making and stamping are some of the ways The Ink Pad has been able to touch base with its customers. And while Zoom can be a hindrance in many ways, Chiang has noticed that it actually has many positives to it when it comes to accessibility.
“Some of those people [attending classes], not all of them but some, are a little older. So they really were not leaving their house at all, and we gave them the experience of being able to do something with us and be creative. And what we made was really fantastic.”
But of course, not every customer is going to be comfortable with a Zoom class, especially when a majority of one’s work is done from home through Zoom already.
“A lot of my customers, as soon as they started to go back to work, they’re already on Zoom all day long. So the last thing they want to do is get on to a Zoom call with me doing a class. it’s just a very different experience than doing it in person. But because I can see my customers on the screen, at least visually we know we’re still here.”
In-person classes are definitely something Chiang plans on bringing back in the future, considering The Ink Pad had a very professional process pre-pandemic.
“The in-person classes are a pretty big part of our business. We would actually rent a space in the Westbeth Artists Community Center. Once a month, roughly two times every six weeks, we would do a big class of about 20 people on a Saturday and 20 people on a Sunday and we would have a guest teacher come in to do that.”
Along with Zoom classes, The Ink Pad has actually seen a surge in some of its products.
“There is a product called a cling stamp or a clear stamp, that is basically the image that would be on the rubber of a rubber stamp, but without any kind of mount to hold on to,” Chiang explained. “Basically, it’s just the rubber that you can actually put onto anything, then you stamp it and then you take it off, and you can put a different image on. So one day, you could have a bumblebee, the next day you could have a tree. People like that, because when you buy, you buy them by the stack. You get like eight or 10 stamps on it, and therefore it is a little more user friendly, because it’s cheaper to ship rather than shipping eight to 10 wood stamps.”
Chiang says she still misses the in-store interaction more than anything.
“People who love crafts love talking about crafts, too,” Chiang said. “So we like to say what we’re working on, what kind of cards we’re working on, our mixed media projects and journaling. And right now you can’t, there’s no space for that, especially when it’s just, ‘click, click, click, send the order, take the order, print the order, pack it.’”
The Ink Pad isn’t taking any risks, only allowing two customers into the store at a time, socially distanced. Still, Chiang is hopeful for the future and hopeful that she will be able to eventually run her business at 100% once again.
“I had a customer today,” Chiang explained. “She walked in and she said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so happy to be in a store.’ And I was like, you know, I’ve been in and out of my store. It’s nice to hear that it’s something that people really miss. That one on one opportunity. And this is coming from people I don’t even know because we’re in a new space here. So I totally welcome new customers and it’s just fun chatting with people. That’s the part I think I missed the most. It’s a very basic thing.”
“Some of those [attending Zoom classes] ... are a little older. So they really were not leaving their house at all, and we gave them the experience of being able to do something with us and be creative.” Anna Chiang, owner of The Ink Pad