Tafts Pen Shop Closes

A sign of the times, Christopher Bantick writes about the closure of two Melbourne icons: Tafts Pen Shop and McGills newsagency and bookshop.

Tafts pen shop, which has closed after 133 years of service, is yet another Melbourne icon that was no longer viable.

Established in Melbourne in 1906 and the first occupant of Centre Way Arcade in 1912, Tafts delivered speciality personal service to customers. Every pen was as different as the customers who frequented the shop.

I was a customer and with my Parker 45 fountain pen no longer being made and parts all but unavailable, Tafts nursed it along.

There would be countless stories like mine of people taking their pens to Tafts knowing that expert assistance would be forthcoming.

Since the closure was announced I visited the shop twice to say my goodbyes to staff, though it already had that empty, soulless feel as the shelves and glass cabinets were picked over by bargain hunters.

With the loss of Tafts, a part of Melbourne has gone with it. Many of us can remember the end of McGills newsagency and bookshop in Elizabeth Street, which closed in 2009 after 149 years of trade. These businesses are not replaceable. The knowledgeable staff, who cared about what they were selling and not selling, have been dispersed.

Like McGills, Tafts has apparently fallen victim to increasing rents. Rents have no sympathy for traditions. You do not need a wrecking ball to change a city.

As businesses go online, perhaps it is natural attrition and pragmatic marketing that the migration of businesses to mail order meets increasing customer demand. It is a reasonable argument. Yet surely this is a limited view.

What Tafts provided was service to generations of Melburnians. Pens sold at Tafts celebrated careers, graduations, signed marriage, birth and death certificates , mortgages, business deals, judgments, love letters, resignation letters, invitations and those hot and hasty notes of passion left on a windscreen.

School children taken in by their mothers and fathers once they grew up from a pencil to a first fountain pen were taken to the arcane world of ink and blotters, bladders, nibs, cartridges at Tafts.

Choosing a pen is like the choosing of a wand in Harry Potter. It has to be right in the hand, right for the time of life and right for the personality. Tafts staff understood this and provided guidance for over a century.

What is lost is a little bit of the spirit of Melbourne. The writing may be on the wall for such businesses but in their demise, we all lose a sense of where we belong.

Christopher Bantick is a Melbourne writer.

Source: The Age Digital Edition: Farewell to a store that wrote our story
Christopher Bantick - August 2019


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