Staying ‘stationery’

Somebody should write them a note of congratulations.

A family-run stationery shop nearly lost its 41-year-old storefront last week. Newport Stationers went as far as posting a going-out-of-business sale sign in its window at Harbor View Center on San Miguel Drive.

But loyal customers rallied, calling on the landlord, the Irvine Co., to ease up on what Newport Stationers managers say was a proposed 20% rent increase they could not afford.

The Irvine Co., which is based in nearby Newport Center, then reversed course and actually lowered the rent, the store managers said.

“They were looking at a substantial amount of bad publicity,” said Newport Stationers General Manager John Tackman, his voice filled with emotion Thursday, when he learned of the news. “We had many outraged and hurt customers who had been with us for many years …There has been such unbelievable support.”

Irvine Co. spokeswoman Erin Freeman said the parties had “several months of active discussions aimed at reaching a lease agreement that would keep them at the center.”

Citing the confidential nature of lease negotiations, she declined to comment further on the specific details of the negotiations.

Store owner Colin West emphasized he wants to preserve his relationship with the Irvine Co., which has been his landlord since 1971. The new lease ends in two years, with the option for a two-year extension.

“We’re grateful for their final support and their change of direction,” he said.

On Thursday, longtime customers traded teary-eyed hugs with employees. The cashier area was frenetic, as earlier that day managers delivered paychecks instead of pink slips and turned a liquidation sale into a customer-appreciation sale.

Regulars walked through the door and Tackman’s wife, retail store manager Peggy Tackman, would call them out by first name and cry out, “We’re back in business!”

Newport Stationers sells note cards, designer-wrapping paper, gifts, school supplies and other personal products.

In the preceding weeks, when it looked as if Peggy Tackman and the other 10 employees were going to lose their jobs, she photocopied the card of the Irvine Co.'s property manager and handed it out to clients, urging them to call and write letters.

“We fought them, and we won,” said 20-year customer Wendy Brooks, who was picking up a custom-wrapped desk pen for a gift.

While Newport Stationers wouldn’t have closed altogether — about 75% of its business is with commercial clients — it would have had to shutter its retail storefront.

Four years ago, when the recession began killing retail sales, the Irvine Co. reduced the shop’s rent, John Tackman said. Many retail landlords around the country did the same.

Irvine Co. opened the Harbor View Center in 1971. West’s mother was one of the original tenants. She bought a Lido Village stationery store in 1964, named it Newport Stationers, and later moved it across town.

The store has long emphasized neighborhood shoppers. Each year, Peggy Tackman gets project lists from nearby schools and stocks up on unusual items like thesis folders, botany paper and 4H pencils — requisites for Corona del Mar High School biology classes.

Many of the customers live in nearby Harbor View Homes and Jasmine Creek. They buy wedding invitations, baby announcements and gifts at the 4,000-square-foot store.

The employees’ close relationships with customers are unusual in modern, often-impersonal retailing.

“I’ve seen babies grow up, get married and have babies,” said Peggy Tackman, who was 18 when she started working at the shop the day it opened.

Twitter: @mreicher