RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And on this script here, David, this upcoming script, I made a few changes with a pen; I actually wrote something, which is becoming more rare with all the tweeting, texting and emailing we do. No surprise, sales of high-end pens are in decline.
Some specialty pen shops have held on - including one in Milwaukee that claims to be the oldest in the country. Erin Toner, of member station WUWM, reports.
ERIN TONER, BYLINE: Walking into Daly's Pen Shop is like leaping back in time - 90-year-old, custom-made, wood storage cabinets; antique ink bottles; and "Ol' Blue Eyes" serenading customers.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WITCHCRAFT")
FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) 'Cause it's witchcraft, wicked witchcraft...
BRAD BODART: We start with the Pilot Namiki pens, which are made in Japan. They're retractable fountain pens. They're very popular; range from $150 to $300. We go into the Waterford pens, as in Waterford Crystal. They do...
TONER: Daly's owner, Brad Bodart, is pointing out classic Cross rollerball pens for 40 bucks, and fancy Montblanc fountain pens that sell for a grand. He says whatever the price point, a good pen completes the package.
BODART: You have a nice pair of shoes, you have a nice belt, you have a nice handbag, and you have a nice pen. Nothing bothers us more than to see a business person pull a Bic out of their pocket.
TONER: Daly's opened in downtown Milwaukee in 1924, when most business and correspondence was done on paper. Bodart says he doesn't know of an older pen store that's still in business. Just in the past few years, Bodart has seen his sales plummet by nearly half. He's able to keep his store open because of expanded online sales and a side business selling antique pens on eBay.
BODART: I won't lie - electronics have taken a bite out of the writing instrument business. But there's a core group of people that pens are just embedded into their soul; and we still have a good, viable business.
(SOUNDBITE OF CASH REGISTER)
LISA MARIE MENEFEE: I love pens.
TONER: Public school teacher Lisa Marie Menefee just popped into Daly's to get ink for the Montblanc pen her husband gave her 20 years ago.
MENEFEE: Oh, I love the way it feels but most of all, I like the way it looks on a page. It seems to have an impact on, actually, what I'm writing.
TONER: As Menefee walks out with new ink cartridges, two women walk in looking for fountain and calligraphy pens.
SUSAN LANE: We drive all the way from the North Shore of Chicago to come here 'cause this is the only pen store. I mean, there's one downtown, but it isn't as fun as this is.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)
TONER: Susan Lane and her friend fall fast in love with an emerald green and gold Visconti.
LANE: Ooh, nice. To me, this is an old-time brand.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is like writing with butter.
LANE: This one is, too. Buttah - it's like buttah.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Try it...
TONER: They'll take it, for $295.
(SOUNDBITE OF CASH REGISTER CLOSING)
BODART: OK, I think we're set, right?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah.
BODART: Well, good. Now, going forward...
TONER: A few weeks ago, Brad Bodart closed Daly's original Milwaukee store from 1924, and moved the antique furniture to this new space, across town. He wants to preserve the store's old-timey feel while cultivating a new generation of pen lovers. Here's what he's marketing to young people who'd rather have a cool phone than a fine writing instrument.
BODART: This would be the Cross Tech 3. You have your rubber stylus on the back, for all of your smart tablets. You have a ball point in black, a ball point in red and a pencil. So it's one unit for the person that needs to do everything in one instrument.
TONER: How much is that pen?
BODART: That one is 55.
TONER: And while he may not be able to beat the prices you can find online, Bodart's hoping people value the experience his shop provides - feeling the weight of a well-made pen and yes, actually writing something with it.
For NPR News, I'm Erin Toner in Milwaukee.