Letterpress studio owners big on sentiment

Husband and wife duo, Michelle and John Mark, reminisce about their college days at Baylor where their stationery business first took off. Photo courtesy of Corey O’Connell Photo

By Shae Koharsky | Social Media Editor

We all get excited when we receive something in the mail, but nowadays everything is digital. We send thank you texts instead of thank you cards. We send someone a meme over Twitter to let them know we’re thinking about them. January Letterpress is trying to bring it back to the basics.

Located in Downtown Waco, January Letterpress is a stationery store and a custom letterpress studio. Owners Michelle and John Mark opened the doors on Aug. 3, but the process was a lot longer than that.

They met at Baylor and graduated in 2016. Michelle was a religion major with an art minor and John majored in public relations. During their time at Baylor, Michelle started creating cards on the floor of her dorm while John helped print them so she could sell them at her booth in Spice Village. After graduating, they both moved to Colorado, but quickly decided that it wasn’t the best place for them. So they moved back to Waco.

Michelle loves the hands-on line of work and knew from the start that she didn’t want a desk-job. Last summer, their friends in Kansas City had a printing press they were trying to sell. Before they knew it, the couple had a 1957 printing press sitting in their garage. Before long, the idea of having a physical place to sell and interact with customers formed.

They signed the lease on Franklin Avenue storefront in January.

“Downtown—it was just obvious for us. Downtown is really growing, and we like the historical beauty of the buildings down here,” Michelle said.

The store specializes in letterpress stationery. Letterpress is a type of printing that has been around for centuries. The machine, using ink, transfers letter onto the paper, which can be embossed or debossed. Embossing is raised lettering, while debossing is indented, which is what January Letterpress specializes in. The art of letterpress printing went out when digital printing came into play in the ‘50s.

“All of a sudden, people thought, ‘Wow, this [digital] printing is awesome. We don’t care for letterpress anymore.’ Everything used to be made by machines like this, so you lost that handmade style that letter pressing has the ability to have,” John said.

But in the store, they do everything by hand. They cut each piece of paper, mix the inks, set it in the press then each piece of paper goes into the press one at a time. The paper is weighted differently and as John puts it, it feels more special.

The couple likes the sentiment behind sending notes, but they feel that it’s being lost in this new digital age.

“I’ve always enjoyed being able to touch and feel things and know things are tactile,” Michelle said.

The store itself has a mix of products. From cards, notebooks and calendars, everything is from different vendors around the country. Michelle gets to choose what she wants in the store on three categories.

“It is a challenge. We’re still very much learning what people want and how much to buy. I’ve set three factors for myself: does it have refined style, I look for things that are more minimal […] then I look for things that are beautiful and have high quality and have a practical use,” Michelle said.

In the back of their store is the studio with the letterpress where they focus on their custom work such as personalized stationery, business cards and wedding invitations. Customers can come in and choose from a book of examples to pick their color and design.

Michelle has a very minimalist style, which is translated throughout the store’s clean lines and in their products, which has attracted a lot of Wacoans.

“Waco is in this special place right now where if you got a good idea, you could probably be the first person to do it,” John said. “Our worlds revolve through Waco.”
The meaning behind the store’s name is special to the couple. January is both of their birthdays, but it is more than that.

“January also represents the start of new things and kind of starting fresh … The holidays get so chaotic and busy, and then in January, everyone is kind of looking for a reset,” Michelle said. “We want to be that quality over quantity product.”

As for the future, the couple said that neither of them is a huge visionary, but when they saw people come into their store, they started to imagine more. Whether it be starting wholesale or creating their own cards to sell to other businesses, it’s still about the customer.

“I think our biggest goal this fall is to do a couple events in the space to just invite other people from the community in,” Michelle said. “We’ve only been marketing on Instagram, so there’s this whole other demographic we haven’t reached out to yet.”
At January Letterpress, the couple’s passion has brought a unique idea to Downtown Waco.

“It takes a lot of words on cheap paper to be somehow meaningful, but sometimes paper speaks for itself,” John said.

January Letterpress is located at 700 Franklin Ave. Unit A. They are opened Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. To see their work, visit them on Instagram @januaryletterpress.