When Marty Ostrow was walking through Central Square in June, he was heartbroken to see one of his favorite stores, University Stationery, was boarded up. Ostrow had been a patron of the office supply store for years and had always worried that the small, mom-and-pop shop would go under like so many others. But to his relief, upon closer inspection he found a sign saying the store had moved just across the street.
Samuel Seidman, a bachelor who had trouble finding work because he was Jewish, became his own boss when he opened University Stationery in 1929. Twelve years later, he married and moved the office supply store to Mass. Ave., where it’s been for 75 years. Seidman’s two children grew up at the shop, and when he passed away in 1975, his daughter left her job at Honeywell to work at the store full-time. Her brother, Barry, later joined her after retiring from the Air Force.
“My mother thought I was crazy. She said she couldn’t pay me the money I was making at Honeywell—and she was right—and I said I didn’t care,” Gail recalls. “I loved it, and the rest is history.”
Gail, Barry and their friend Betsy Spitzer work at the store full-time, despite being, as Gail puts it, of “social security age.” She attributes their love of work to the Cambridge community.
“It’s the people in Cambridge, they’re awesome,” she says. “The community as a whole bonds together and it does wonderful things. You’ve got probably hundreds of organizations in Cambridge that are helping the community.”
Over the years, the trio has built up a network of loyal customers like Ostrow, which Gail says has been supportive during the store’s move.
“It’s just heart-lifting to see that they had a good outcome, and it shows you that development doesn’t have to be at the expense of tradition,” Ostrow says. University Stationery’s popularity is reflected in its Yelp reviews; the company has had a five-star rating for years. The reviews consistently cite the store’s customer service, quality and fair prices. “Just had an amazing and typical experience at University Stationery with my heroes, Gail and Barry Seidman,” one customer wrote.
“The reason we’re still in business is we talk to our customers,” Gail said. “Our competition, they don’t want telephone calls.”
The move to 296 Mass. Ave. marks a new chapter for University Stationery, and Gail and Barry are thrilled with the new store. “Look at that. You got one of those at home?” Gail quips, pointing out the back room’s kitchen appliances. She considers the move a win-win. The business next to their old location is now able to expand, and University Stationery has a larger space in a more modern building. To make the new store feel like home, they’re ordering a recreation of the original Inman Square location’s sign.
“You can tell how proud we are,” Gail says of the business. Like her father, she faced discrimination when working at other companies. She was offered her first job interview because the company, Honeywell, thought that she was a man. They were shocked when she showed up for the interview, but she pressed them about why they wouldn’t hire a woman, highlighted her college education and ultimately was offered the job.
“My parents told me I could do anything I wanted to—look at me now,” she says, surrounded by University Stationery’s new home.
Gail and Barry say they’ll keep working at the store as long as they can. Barry wants to pass the store on to his grandchildren, but as his granddaughter’s currently a toddler, the duo still has a long way to go.
“Part of the reason we moved rather than retired is because we’re part of the community, and they’re part of us, and they want us to be here,” Gail says. “I’ve had 40 years here full-time and it’s been absolutely wonderful. It’s not work—it’s a labor of love.”