For the first seven years, Phil Podemski had his shop on Park Row across from City Hall, but in 1973, with the help of his son, Sam, they came uptown and have resided on 47th Street ever since. "It was a good move on our part, " Sam admitted. "It has allowed us to weather each of the storms that have come our way. "Because Phil's Stationery is in the Jewelry District, there have always been customers in need of memorandum books, special jewelry bags for shipping, and other necessary items that Sam and his dad never allowed to run out of stock. "This has kept us alive. " That and the warm customer service that he strongly believes in. "Yes, I could close up shop and sell my goods solely on the internet, but I would miss the people — the human connection. " Sam's best connection, however, was with his dad. "We were together for forty years until he passed away in 1996. I have the best memories of him yelling at me throughout those years, always in the most loving way. "When Sam and his dad initially opened, they were not known as an office supply store. They carried an amalgam of health and beauty products, chocolate, and other novelty goods. As time progressed, they evolved into a full office supply shop carrying absolutely everything that one could want or need for their desk. In addition to having fun rummaging through the stacks of notebooks, journals, pens, markers, and an array of art supplies, it is the collection of Berol pencils made in the U. S. in the 1960s, the old Swingline staplers — and several other items that date back some fifty to sixty years — that will provide a noteworthy trip down memory lane for many.
With a chuckle, Santo Mollica told us that he and his wife began their small business after a mix-up with a psychedelic church and the fire department. Santo and Margaret had been living in the East Village since 1979, making a living at various odd jobs. In the evenings, they would host everything from concerts to magic shows in their apartment, until one evening, firemen showed up at their door. Neighbors had called about the raucous church nearby, but they showed up at Santo and Margaret's home by mistake and shut down their performance space, which technically violated city code. It was time to take on a project that was a little more official. Santo decided to centralize some of his odd jobs under one roof, and in 1982, the couple opened The Source Unltd Print & Copy Shop. From its early days, their business “took on a life of its own. ” Santo had been doing layouts for his friends in the arts and music world and taking them elsewhere to be printed. He then began to specialize in printing and copying at the Source, something almost unheard of at the time. Santo describes the evolution of The Source over the decades in a humble way, but it took a lot of ingenuity to keep up with the changing landscape of the East Village and the rapid pace of technology. Initially specializing in layout and design, Santo and Margaret learned to convert VHS tapes to DVDs and cassettes to CDs. Today they do a lot of business online in addition to printing stickers and business cards, creating custom hardwood stamps, scanning, binding, laminating, and selling everything from batteries to sidewalk chalk. Though Santo is always adapting his shop and adding new items, he says that “it’s really about the people, not the things. ” The East Village veterans mentor retailers who are new on the street, and they have built relationships with customers from all walks of life. They have also been running a food drive in their store for over twenty years. “Sometimes people come in and give, other times they take, ” says Santo. Santo and Margaret are soft spoken individuals, but you do not survive for over thirty years on 9th street without a certain amount of resourcefulness. For example, in the mid 2000s, Santo had to run a generator on the sidewalk for over a year to provide electricity for the store. The reduced electricity, Santo said, was part of an effort to push them out. After a prolonged legal battle, the proprietors of The Source won. “We just wanted to serve the community and be fair and honest in all our dealings, ” Santo added with a shrug. Santo and Margaret are never looking for a fight, but it is clear they are not afraid of one, either. When we asked the couple, in early 2018, if they ever thought about retirement, even their dog Curtis looked amused. “Retirement? I don’t know what that means, ” Margaret replied. Smiling, Santo added that those who work for bureaucracies or corporations can often pack up one day and stop going to work, but, “We work for ourselves. We love it. And we have to keep it up to survive. The neighborhood is always evolving, but we can’t think of a place we’d rather be. ”