A pillar on Bel Air’s Main Street for nearly a century, Preston’s Stationery is truly a stationary business. Family-owned for four generations, it has weathered a depression, a pandemic and a lot of merchandise tinkering in those 96 years.
“I’d like to make it to 100,” owner Robert Preston said. Many mom-and-pop stationery stores have shuttered, but Preston’s survives thanks to its reputation and a clientele that favors personal service over the internet when purchasing custom invitations for weddings and social gatherings. That’s the gist of Preston’s sales.
Here, brides-to-be meet with staff to draft their ideal come-ons, like the faux train tickets that one woman sought for her destination wedding.
“People get really creative,” said Preston’s daughter, Kim Preston Bond, who works with customers to hammer out their concepts. “One couple’s invitation resembled the [loan] card that goes in the back of library books, with the dates stamped showing when they met, when he proposed and the date of the wedding. For a pair of Orioles fans, we printed trifold baseball tickets on which the gates of Camden Yards opened to show the date they’d be married there.”
“It’s neat to see these ideas, and we help them to follow through,” she added.
It’s not the merchandise that Bond’s great-grandfather sold when the place opened in 1926, when newspapers, cigars and bookkeeping supplies stocked the shelves.
“During the Great Depression, he sold whatever he could get his hands on, from razors to guitar strings,” said Preston, 73. “The whole business has been an evolution.”
Custom printing took off in the 1990s, at Bond’s behest. A graphics whiz, she walks clients through the purchase of everything from thank-you notes and graduation announcements to peripheral wedding products like menus, coasters and napkins.
Of late, wedding invitations have taken a more casual tone, said Bond, 45.
“In the last 20 years, they’ve gotten very colorful and personalized. There are still people who want the traditional classic invitations, but others choose [more heartfelt] themes,” she said. “One couple put a drawing of themselves and their dog on their card; another had a nautical theme, with seashells and anchors. We’ve done invitations in purple, for Ravens’ fans.”
On occasion, clients will attempt to push the envelope, Bond said. “Some artwork has been questionable, but I make subtle suggestions and they sway in that direction.”
Customers can thumb through hundreds of former invitations for ideas for their own.
“They’ll go through the boxes and recognize the names of their friends,” Bond said. “Sometimes they’ll find one and say, ‘Oh, they’re not together anymore.’ That makes me sad.”
Not every couple arrives in agreement on the style and text of their invitation.
“We spent two-and-a-half hours with a bride and groom and her parents, all of whom had different ideas,” she said. “There was a lot of back-and-forth; some moms can lose sight that it’s their daughter’s wedding. But we got it done and, when we did, everyone cheered.”
319 S. Main St., Bel Air. 410-838-5858. prestonsstationery.com/