Seventeen years ago, Nancy Laboz, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, was at a crossroads in her life—return to her job at Real Simple magazine after maternity leave or give up the corporate grind to open a vintage stationery shop. She vowed that she would leave the job behind and follow her dream if she could find a lease in downtown Montclair. Two weeks before the maternity leave was up, fate found her a space in a former record store, and Nancy has never looked back. Parcel opened in 2003 as a vintage-inspired paper and curiosity shop that houses a unique mix of paper, packaging, and decorative objects, all aimed to awaken the imagination and inspire creativity. These days, she’s moved to a larger space up the block and has grown her business to include custom invitations and personalized gift wrapping while still maintaining the special attention to detail essential to Parcel’s vintage DNA. We sat down with this Montclair mom of two to talk about the morning store ritual that she loves, the ways that Parcel keeps evolving, and her favorite other woman-owned spots in Montclair.
Featured image via @shopparcel
Tell us about your background and how it led to opening Parcel? What inspired you to do this?
For about 15 years, I worked in fashion, at various magazines, and finally, at Real Simple as Accessories and Fashion Editor. I loved it, but I longed to work for myself instead of being in the corporate grind. When I was eight months pregnant with my daughter, I found myself at a crossroads—I could go back to my post at Real Simple, with long grueling hours and a city commute, and hand over my daughter to someone else each day. Or, if I found the right retail space in my town, I would follow my dream of owning my very own shop, full of things I love where I could create all the time. Two weeks before the end of my maternity leave with my daughter Lucy, I signed a lease on a space that was an old book and record store—perfect to house my vintage style stationery shop. That was 17 years ago.
Tell us a little about your business. What makes it unique?
I knew that when I decided to open my shop, I’d be spending many hours a day there. It was paramount to me that the shop had a certain feeling. Besides being very selective about the merchandise (all either vintage found items, handmade paper items, or specialty imported and high-quality goods from faraway places), I decorated the space with found antique fixtures, like an old general store. I also wanted to touch on the senses, so lighting, music, and aromatic scent were essential in creating an atmosphere reminiscent of another time. Although the original focus was stationery goods, there has always been an emphasis on specialty packaging and decoration for all occasions. We evolved into offering custom invitations and elaborate gift wrapping, among many other creative and personalized services. After 12 years in our original storefront, we moved to a larger space to tailor to the business’s specific needs. We have been in our current space for five years now. I love going into the shop each morning with the ritual of turning on all of our twinkling lights, playing old movie soundtracks, and burning a favorite candle.
What are one or two items that you sell that you can’t keep on the shelves because they’re fan favorites?
We have some funny little items like a fuzzy fox pin and a happy face lip balm that are fan favorites, and we have been selling them in the shop for many years. But our hand foil-pressed note cards are certainly something that we are known for and are very proud of. We create all of our printing plates from vintage or hand-drawn imagery, and we hand-press every card. With so much technology, it’s nice to know there is still a demand for writing a good old-fashioned note.
Business-wise, how have you adapted since the pandemic started?
Thankfully my website was set up and recently redesigned in the last year or so. As soon as we closed the shop, I still went in every few days. It became a sort of warehouse for assembling and fulfilling orders with products from our shelves. My home office was never really used for real work, so it was satisfying to set that up as a functioning office space to bundle and ship orders. I’m grateful for the website, which kept us afloat during the three months that our physical doors were closed. Since June, when we were able to re-open, my biggest challenge is that I now have two jobs—maintaining and growing the website and being a full-time shopkeeper (with minimal staff).
You’ve had your shop for 17 years—what’s changed since the opening?
When I first opened Parcel, I envisioned a small and sweet European-style specialty shop that celebrated the slower pace of a bygone era. I was never interested in working with brides and producing large scale invitations for events. But I began to see a demand for that, so I decided to move in that direction by hiring a graphic designer. We are now the only shop in Montclair that offers the service of custom invitations. They are still an essential part of our business, but the silver lining to the pandemic is we have gotten back to our roots of a slower pace and special attention to detail for every project. I’m hopeful that when things go back to “normal,” we can maintain this movement and keep everything just as unique.
What are your favorite things to do in NJ with your family?
We love spending as many days as possible at the Jersey Shore during the warmer months. We also like visiting Lambertville, strolling the flea market, and walking around all the antique shops. Since I’ve had the shop for so many years, I’m used to working Saturdays, so we try to make our family day on Sundays and like to do simple things like taking our dog Ozzy to the dog park in Brookdale Park.
What are some of your favorite local businesses? What do you love most about them?
My favorite businesses are Just Kidding Around, a very cool toy store, Cafe Giotto, and Little Daisy Bake Shop. These places are women-owned individual small businesses, and I love that they all have a specialized and strong point of view in what they do.
Please share your best piece of advice for a fellow NJMOMpreneur who is just starting out.
There are a million reasons to talk yourself out of starting your own business, especially as a mom and during these times. However, if you have a strong concept and can’t get it out of your mind, you need to take the plunge and give it your best shot. Don’t expect immediate results—it can take a few years to settle into a groove. Listen to your clients or customers, and be open to morphing a bit, but try not to compromise too much of your original idea’s integrity, or it will become too diluted. Another piece of advice is to say no to things that aren’t in your wheelhouse. It is better to stick with your strengths and over-perform in those areas than to promise more than you can produce.