Last month, I was introduced to the Black Ink Store and theMUT.com. If only I live in Boston or at Harvard Square or anywhere near these cities, I would definitely visit these stores. Apart from offering an array of unique, well-designed and functional items for the home and the office- perfect for organizing stuff- the stores also display a vintage collection of tools, decor, etc.
On this week’s Q&A, let’s get to meet one of the co-founders and the owner of Black Ink, Susan Corcoran.
What’s the inspiration behind your shop’s name?
Black Ink on Charles Street in Boston is our original retail store, opening in 1994. When we first opened we had a large selection of rubber stamps we produced ourselves, many were vintage images, all were a bit unusual. As black ink was my favorite color to stamp with, we named the store Black Ink. At this time we sold a lot of rubber stamps and a few select personal accessories/gifts – times change and we now sell a lot of gifts and accessories and just a few rubber stamps…
Change has been a constant at Black Ink, we have always experimented and tried products that would not ordinarily be found in a retail store. We purchased many industrial and vintage industrial products to use in the store as fixtures and props, as our customers commented and asked about purchasing these pieces, we began to source industrial items to add to our product selection.
We sold industrial canvas baskets, steel lockers and stools, and many restaurant supplies pieces that were functional and beautiful. From this collection came the inspiration to start our first website, the Museum of Useful Things. theMUT.com sold pieces that were fun and satisfying to use, like the giant woodshop dustpan, a spinning restaurant order rail, and a kraft box filled with oversize paperclips.
As interest in these products was keen, we opened a brick and mortar store to display our vintage goods and sell the currently produced items. Although we are back to a website only for the Museum of Useful Things, theMUT.com still provides those hard to find useful items, and, as our tagline still reads “the beauty of function.”
Behind the cutter – some of Susan’s many industrial tool catalogs,
which are a treasure trove of great images and duo-tone printing.
In the interim, a new, larger Black Ink was opened in Harvard Square, Cambridge. And we finally succumbed to a Black Ink website: BlackInkBoston.com. We currently operate out of these two stores, running the two websites, and I keep an office/collection at home.
What was the toughest challenge you faced so far?
The toughest challange of our store’s history was losing our co-founder, Timothy Corcoran, to cancer seven years ago. We continue in his spirit, bringing a bit of wit and humor to our friends, staff and loyal customers.
the things I do when not busy in shops:
Travel! This is where much inspiration hits, visiting other cultures, seeing how others live and work, and getting a fresh perspective on my own businesses. We recently spent time in Tokyo and are headed to Iceland next.
Work on my house. My home’s design has a symbiotic relationship to the design of the stores. I have incorporated many retail fixtures and elements into the house I share with my two kids and our pets. Like the stores, it is a functional and utilitarian space with lots of unusual and idiosyncratic pieces. The design is quite minimal, but is full of the vintage industrial pieces I collect and books and products found in our travels.
Reading is another source of inspiration. We sell many architectural and craft titles in our stores, so I try to keep up with what’s new and try some of the crafts (amigurumi is a current favorite.)
The shelves were originally used in the Museum of Useful Things retail store.
stuff inside your bag you can’t leave home without:
My MacBook goes everywhere, as does my iPod touch – need to have music and images available, and a camera. (My kids and dog are usually with me, too)
in the front window of the Harvard Square store.
your favorite shops:
Tokyo is a shopper’s paradise, loved Tokyu Hands and the original Muji and the Ginza Ito-ya and all the small quirky fashion boutiques. I can get my Japanese shopping fix in New York at Kinokuniya Bookstore, Takashimaya, Uni Qlo and Muji…
your top 3 picks from Black Ink:
What tips would you want to share for aspiring home based entrepreneurs like you?
Best to find what you really love to work with, as it can and will be all-consuming in terms of time and energy.
Don’t be afraid of change once underway, businesses must continue to morph and respond to changes in the business, economic and taste/style environments.
Have fun with it!
co-founder and current owner of Black Ink, theMUT.com and BlackInkBoston.com
Your message to customers and friends of Black Ink:
It’s been fifteen years since the first Black Ink opened, thank you for a wild ride, looking forward to more and different!
Now for my picks.
I really want to get myself these utilitarian things to help me get organized.