Amid pandemic upheaval, January Letterpress owners plan for special delivery

Michelle and Jon Mark are the owners of January Letterpress, a stationery store and custom letterpress studio located in Downtown Waco. Chase Li | Photographer

By Camille Rasor | Arts & Life Editor

The coronavirus pandemic has caused many local businesses to shift their day-to-day operations. With the recent news surrounding the post office and their first baby on the way, January Letterpress owners and married couple Michelle and Jon Mark Buckner have had quite the first year of small business ownership.

The shop, located at 700 Franklin Ave, opened a little over a year ago on August 3, 2019. Since then, the Buckners have been expanding their vision for the business from a store front to a custom letterpress shop for clients. They are also working on creating a wholesale line and candle collection to add to their products.

“Early on, we realized that we have to be more than just retail, and so we needed to find ways to make custom products for people, and we needed to find ways to do wholesale,” Jon Mark said.

When the Waco shelter-in-place order went into place on March 23, the shop was forced to shut down for six weeks. Since then, they have slowly begun to return to normal.

“When we were allowed to reopen after the initial shutdown, we just didn’t think it would be worth it to go back to five days a week because everything was so slow,” Michelle said. “So we’re kind of working our way back to our normal hours.”

Before the shut down, the shop was open five days a week. Now, they are open three days a week, Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This shift in business hours and practices is common around the country according to research from Florida State University. Of the small businesses included in the study, 14.5% of businesses closed their doors temporarily while 31% have operated at a lower capacity.

However, Michelle and Jon Mark have not only been working around the COVID-19 crisis. They are also expecting their first baby this fall.

“The shutdown of COVID hit us at kind of an ideal time because that was right in my first trimester, and I was really not feeling well, and so I was able to just stay home, which was ideal,” Michelle said.

Now they are looking to hire a new staff member to take over most of Michelle’s responsibilities and help the couple continue to grow their shop while they take a step back to welcome their little one into the world.

“We’re spending a lot of time writing procedures from the really basic things to the more complicated things,” Jon Mark said. “Everything from how to clean a window to how to operate a letterpress has to be somehow written down and communicated so that if I step away, someone else is still capable of doing it without me.”

Another big development from this year that has affected the couple’s line of work is the confusion regarding recent developments and downsizing at the U.S. Postal Service.

“As far as our business, that hasn’t affected us. It has definitely been a big topic in our industry, I see a lot of the brands and other stores that I follow on Instagram talking about it,” Michelle said.

Though the changes around the postal service have yet to affect their individual business, the couple said they value the service and don’t want to see it suffer.

“I don’t think it’ll ever go away entirely, but if you want it to thrive, then yeah, you should buy stamps, you should send more cards,” Michelle said. “We use the postal service for all of our shipping needs. It’s the most cost effective, and we really love our mailman Rod who comes in here every day.”

Thankfully, COVID-19 outbreaks and canceled events have not affected their business when it comes to clients ordering custom letterpress products for events such as weddings.

“We probably have the normal amount of inquiries we usually have. A lot of them are just more ahead of time,” Michelle said. “So we’re getting a lot more people who are getting married a year from now, or maybe they pushed their wedding back. We did a couple like ‘Change-the-Dates’ for people who were supposed to be getting married this summer who had to move. So, you know, that’s actually kind of more jobs than normal.”

The couple said that about a year from now, on their shop’s second birthday, they hope to expand their business to include more options for their customers and create a wholesale line.

“A lot of our goals right now are around our wholesale line,” Michelle said. “We want to be able to produce cards and sell them to other stores like ours around the country, so that requires designing a bunch of cards up front, filling catalogs, sending it out to potential buyers and then printing all those as well. We’ll be doing that in house.”

Jon Mark also said that they also want to create more of a presence within the Waco community and support the Waco arts scene as their shop continues to grow.

“We frequently get people that come through our shop from West Texas, Lubbock, Amarillo, Dallas, Houston that we have come by and stop and shop because it’s just a place you visit. We want to be more recognized for that,” Jon Mark said. “But we also want to be more supportive of the arts in Waco, so we want to be more involved in events that are happening downtown and just participating and supporting other local artists more.”