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The Create Series: Grovestreet Press

An Interview with a New Orleans based Letterpress & Design Company
Filed Under > Everyday

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Let’s just say that The Grovestreet Press, a New Orleans based letterpress and design shop, has us falling in love with snail mail again.  Founders Kate and Anna are to thank for that; the best friends and cousins design and produce refreshingly tasteful greeting cards and prints that we can’t get enough of.  Their Instagram, for one, is a testament to their great aesthetic…think quintessential Southern flair with irresistible preppy details.  And with a peek at Nola’s charming streets and drool-worthy grub, we’re itching to go down and visit the girls STAT. 

We recently sat down with Kate to hear more about what it’s really like to start a business with your best friend, how letterpress REALLY works, their favorite hotspots in Nola, and what’s next for this talented duo.  Cheers, Kat

WOM: Please take us through your professional journey (how you two started, what made you think consider working together and starting your own business, how you decided on your niche, etc.).
GSP: Anna and I are cousins and best friends (frousins!), and we’ve been close ever since we were little.  Our moms are sisters and very close, so we grew up seeing each other every time our moms did.  This created a special kind of bond that’s really the foundation of our business – we inherited our moms’ tastes and personalities, too, which is something that could never be repeated in any other type of friendship.  We grew up in Lake Charles, LA, a smaller town in the ‘heel of the boot’ of Louisiana, right on the water. We both left for college.  Anna studied graphic design, and I studied English.  We reunited in New Orleans as adults, and combined our knowledge and shared tastes into the craft of letterpress, which we always say is where the study of design and words meet.  We’ve definitely had to settle into our niche a bit over the first phase of our business.  The process wasn’t so much a search for our niche, but rather culling through the many things we are drawn to and deciding to focus on one strain of it purposefully and fully. 

WOM: Give us a “Letterpress for Dummies” run-down. How do you make your custom print letterpress cards? How did you learn the process?
GSP
: We have two antique presses at our shop.  They’re on site, right behind our retail storefront, so visitors can browse our products and have a peek at how they were created, giving our shop a museum-like quality.  We explain the process to people who stop in regularly, hoping that the visitors leave with an appreciation for the craft and a basic understanding of the history of printing.  One press is a Chandler & Price platen press, on which we print most of the cards – it’s a clamshell style, that opens and closes like a wide open alligator’s mouth, touching the printing plate to the paper that rests on the platen.  The other, which we use mainly for our larger art prints, is a Vandercook proof press.  It uses the same method (letterpress is a form of relief printing), but the paper rolls on a cylinder over the printing plate that lays flat.  I know this is complicated!  It’s worth looking up on YouTube to see it in action if you never have – much easier to understand visually.  YouTube is actually how I first learned about letterpress (the irony in the technology!).  I stumbled upon a clip of a press in Massachusetts printing the cover of a book, and I was mesmerized. I remember emailing the link to Anna right then, saying “when we go into business, this is how we’ll print our cards!”  Anna doesn’t really remember this… but so it goes 🙂 

My mom was at the vet in their hometown not too long after I fell in love with the idea of printing, and she mentioned the new interest to the vet’s wife – mainly out of general interest, because her father had been a commercial printer.  She paused and said “well, we actually have an old press here!  At the vet’s office!  We’ve held onto it for sentimental reasons, but Kate can have it if she’ll use it.”  And sure enough, under a stack of cat crates, there was an a Chandler & Price press.  I spent the following summer refurbishing it and teaching myself about its operation. 

Long story short: I moved to Chicago for a couple of years, where I apprenticed under a typsetter and printer at a popular printship, while Anna was finishing college. I was ready to come back to the South and be closer to my family, and so, once Anna was done with school, we both found ourselves in New Orleans.  It was sort of on a whim that we decided to give the business a go, but it turned out to be a very happy whim!

WOM: We’ve loved discovering you and keeping up with your success in the press over the past couple of years. When did you realize that GSP had “made it”? Was there one moment when you realized this was all going to be a hit, or were there a bunch of little moments?
GSP
: Definitely a bunch of little moments!  We’ve made a lot of connections over Instagram, which has been really wonderful for us.  Some of those little moments are just having a big insta-name start following up,  and some are big press opportunities.  We had a small feature in Country Living right when we were getting off the ground, and it was incredibly surreal.  So surreal, in fact, that we didn’t even remember to tell our moms!  My mom called me in happy tears from the jetway in an airplane after landing, after having stumbled across the feature while reading magazines during her flight. 

WOM: Where do you find inspiration for your cards?
GSP
: As I mentioned before, we really edited our tastes and consciously chose a direction / “feel” that we wanted to give with our designs.  Our moms are both collectors of American antiques, and we’ve been inspired by the classic style of New Orleans in our time here, so the American heritage style is what we were drawn to more than any other.  We often say that our designs are Americana vintage with a little quirk. 

WOM: We’re BIG advocates of snail mail here at WOM. Could you two narrow it down to a favorite card to send (probably impossible, we know!)?
GSP
: That is really tough!  Our cocktail cards are our most popular right now (and we have another coming out soon!), but I think our favorite will always be our pup Mildred, riding in the car, with the caption ‘She understands Sit and Stay; She simply prefers to roam.’  It’s just a general greeting card, which means that it would be sent with no particular purpose other than just telling a loved one hello – a sentiment we also really love and want to encourage.

WOM: What’s the craziest time of year for you guys?
GSP: We gave up custom work a little bit ago to focus on expanding our retail line, which means that the busyness has been steady. 

WOM: Is there a specific way you like to fill your “creativity tanks”? Favorite way to unwind after a workday?
GSP: The Old Fashioned is the signature cocktail of GSP, and we have an ongoing Old Fashioned taste test going on.  It’s always our go-to when trying a new bar, so we can rate it against others, and we’ll often stop for one on our way home after a workday, or get one at the bar next door to the shop when we need help making decisions towards the end of the day. 

We both love New Orleans so, so much, and we don’t ever want to get jaded at what a gem of a city we live in.  When we need to fill our creativity tanks, we’ll often make a trip to a beautiful part of the city in the name of taking an Instagram photo or coffee break and try to step back, appreciate the architecture and history, and relax surrounded by it. 

WOM: How has balancing friendship and entrepreneurship been so far with your success?
GSP
: Our friendship is the reason for our success!  Being able to be completely candid with the person you work closely with is the most important.  I’m not afraid to tell Anna when I don’t like one of her designs, and she’s not shy to tell me that she thinks a picture I’ve taken is boring.  We’ll sit in silence at the shop for hours, if one of us can tell that the other is annoyed or tired and needs quiet time.  Enjoying each other’s company outside of the shop, too, when we’re ‘refilling our creativity tanks’ adds so much – we can reference experiences and travels we share when we’re working, and we know exactly what makes the other tick. 

WOM: What bumps have you hit along the way?
GSP
: So, so many.  We taught ourselves most of what we now know – about the specifics of stationery production and the ins and outs of business licenses and the such.  We’ve experienced all the missteps that come with being self-taught.  I don’t know what we were thinking, but we didn’t even think to buy envelopes for our first card show!  It’s little things like that – Anna having to learn a new way to digitize her sketches and figuring out the complex world of shipping methods.  And bigger things – rearranging 1500 lb presses to accommodate a retail storefront in what was just going to be a studio space, or deciding to step away from wedding invitations.  It’s all been a process, with decisions often made because we were faced with a bump in the road. Just like that C.S. Lewis quote: Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”

WOM: Unfortunately in the creative industry, there can be a lot of copy-cats. Have you had to deal with any?
GSP
: Not many, thankfully!  At least not many that we’re aware of… yet.  We did have one little incident with a recreation of a tote we designed for West Elm, but it was for someone’s wedding, not for resale.  I’m hoping it stays this way!

WOM: What are your tips to others starting out on the same path as you did? 
GSP: We hear the word ‘passion’ thrown around a lot in the creative industry, and I kind of hate it.  Following your passion is a terrible idea!   We are fortunate that things lined up the way we did that allowed us to explore the small business world, but at the end of the day, it’s still work.  And work should be difficult.  Your passion needs to be tempered by reason – the decision to start a business should be a prudent one, with the advice and help of many people.  You’ll fall out of love with something and become disheartened quickly if you don’t think about it as work, something that requires trudging through rough patches. 

WOM: Anything new and exciting coming down the pipeline this year? Anything you can slip on what’s next for GSP?
GSP: There’s lots were excited about.  We’re continuing to expand our card line, but we’ll also be introducing our first non-paper items into our regular wares.  We have a set of Southern Saying felt pennants on order that we designed and are going to test on the market.  We have plans for totes, tea towels, notebooks, and other little gifty items. 

WOM: And because we can’t NOT ask: what are your favorite Nola hotspots and must-try restaurants?
GSP
: New Orleans is just bustling right now.  It feels like there is some highly anticipated restaurant opening every week!  The New Orleans classics that have been around forever are classics for a reason, though, and shouldn’t be ignored.  Commander’s Palace and Galatoire’s, for instance, are worth the splurge. You also get a little ticket to time travel when you visit for a meal – they transport you back in time to old New Orleans.  Fresher favorites: Cochon Butcher is right around the corner from our shop, and we recommend it to every hungry passerby who’s famished after a long Garden District walk.  Willa Jean is in the new South Market Shopping district not too far from us, too.  They serve updated Southern favorites (amazing biscuits!) and have a drink called Frosé Y’all, a frozen rosé cocktail.

WOM: Oh! And one last one we promise…favorite Instagram accounts to follow?
GSP
: Our best insta-pal is @JackieGreaney.  We met her through the ‘gram, took a trip to Rhode Island with her to visit @kjp and @sarahkjp, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.  @Lsteffan has a great eye for capturing New Orleans architecture, and we’re super excited for @ernapier‘s big debut on HGTV! 

ADDITIONAL CREDITS:

Photos courtesy of The Grovestreet Press

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