Papermart stores plan one last sale before closing in 2014

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Three decades ago, Michael Paul was working in marketing at a chemical engineering firm and his wife, Alix, was teaching when a relative described a store that he'd seen filled with party supplies.

That sounded like a great idea, so they went to trade shows and hunted down merchandise to fill their new store on Baum Boulevard. "There weren't many suppliers then," Mr. Paul recalled.

Papermart, as they called their store, did well enough to not only stay open, but to eventually grow to a small fleet of seven locations around the Pittsburgh region.

The stores -- there are four left at this point, in Lower Burrell, Monroeville, Ross and Scott -- will be closing early next year. Mr. Paul told his employees -- about 20 full-time and 30 part-time staff, some of whom have worked at Papermart more than 15 years -- early this week.

Mr. Paul, who was 29 when that first location opened and who turns 59 later this month, said the leases were expiring at the various sites, and the couple's three sons have moved out of the region and aren't interested in taking over the business.

It's time to move on to something else, although he's not sure yet what that will be.

"My last 30 years have been the best 30 years," said Mr. Paul, who reported the stores are still profitable, although he declined to share financial details. He said he didn't consider trying to sell the business because the company doesn't own its retail spaces.

In that first location, the two owners who lived nearby in Shadyside waited on everyone. "Sometimes I would ride my bike to work," he said.

As the family and the company grew, the children got recruited to work in the stores as did other relatives. The customers buying balloons, napkins, paper plates, pinatas and other stuff -- the owners estimate they've sold more than 50,000 Whoopee Cushions over the years -- would talk about the parties they were planning.

There were birthday parties, weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, even Lamaze class reunions that needed the perfect paper tablecloth. Holidays kept coming year round with the occasional jolt from a successful season from the city's sports teams. "Every time the city celebrated, we celebrated," he said.

Competition picked up over the years as mass merchants, dollar stores, drugstores and supermarkets added more party supplies. "They all sell a little bit of what we sold," Mr. Paul said.

Online stores also became an option. Papermart advertised online but never took on the challenge of selling over the Internet.

Store closing sales are scheduled to start today. The Lower Burrell and Monroeville leases expire in January, while the Ross and Scott stores can stay open into February.

There's also a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in the East Liberty area that the company will be emptying out over the next couple of months, including goods that might normally not make an appearance in the stores during the winter.

Teresa F. Lindeman: or at 412-263-2018.

Teresa F. Lindeman: or 412-263-2018. First Published December 16, 2013 3:50 PM

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