To the casual customer it might not seem likely, but a copy shop can be one of the most intense places to work.
Early in my career, I spent several years as a budding graphic designer working in a series of New England copy shops. While I did my desktop publishing thing at a desk removed from the hubbub of the shop floor, I marveled at the talent, precision and patience of the best copy jockeys.
If all you’ve ever gotten are a few copies or maybe a set of business cards, imagine this scenario: an architectural firm wants a hundred bound editions with a mix of chapters, some in color and some not. There are dozens of fold-out maps and diagrams woven in. A professor from the nearby college needs his collection of reading materials assembled from a variety of sources: magazines, newspaper clippings and typewritten reports. A legal team needs a brief copied, and due to its sensitive nature, a lawyer needs to wait while you work.
One machine is down, a repairman has all his tools out on the floor, and an elderly piano teacher has a special project he’s been saving up to do for years: he wants to make copies of fragile old sheet music, currently stored in archival plastic folders. If possible, he’d really like to supervise the work. He recognizes that it might take a few hours, but he’s ready.
Some mavericks I knew could handle such a torrent of complicated work as if they were buttering toast. More often, though, stress levels ran high. Lots of places I worked had a lot of turnover.
The staff of Paradise Copies in Northampton have always impressed me with their ability to weather such challenges with grace, wit and style. Though I’ve never worked there, sometimes the good people who have served me have made me remember my copy shop days more fondly. Showing themselves true masters, they make things look easy. Fun, even.
A key part of this copy shop’s identity has been its choice location.
For nearly 20 years, it occupied the space on Crafts Avenue just down from Northampton’s town hall. (Provisions Pantry and Cellar is located there now.) The low brick building at the bottom of the hill is wedge-shaped, with two levels, like the open decks of a ship. Though a bit crammed in, the copy joint was laid-back and friendly. The place had the same kind of funky, hip-feel you hoped your own design work achieved.
When I heard Paradise was moving in 2008—even just a few hundred yards away down Conz Street—I was actually worried that something vital about Northampton was in danger of being lost.
I needn’t have worried.
Taking over an abandoned lot and building a bank had once occupied, owner Carol MacColl injected the space with color and light to brighten the neighborhood and create more room for her employees to perform.
Interviewed recently, MacColl said the decision to move was spontaneous.
“The lease was coming due and needed to be renegotiated,” she said. “I was driving away from the shop with my husband, Don, talking about the possibility of looking for another space, and I saw the “For Sale” sign on Conz Street. A friend had become a realtor with Pat Goggins, and I called him right then. If it hadn’t fallen all together so quickly, we’d probably still be [on Crafts Avenue].”
While the obvious improvement to the business is that it has its own parking lot, both outside and inside are imbued with a certain tropical charm. Even when there are 10 inches of snow outside, the colorful cloudscape painted across the building and the lush landscaping provided by Craig Stevens offer an oasis. At night, an intricate web of dazzling Christmas lights wrapped around the trees and signage gives you the sense that a party might be brewing inside.
The sparkle is intentional.
“I like the idea of coming off I-91, coming down Conz Street into town, and there we are, all aglow,” she said. “It’s a nice welcome into town.”
Inside, a backdrop of tropical scenery surrounds the wide-open space. Just beyond a grove of graphic designers camped out near the counter, MacColl’s office is offset by decorative gables and windows. Her door is open and while she can have an eye on things among the machines and at the counter, she’s mostly busy on her own.
During the interview, the phone rang constantly and employees came in, fielding a wide array of issues, not least a dog wandering in the lot.
“I think it belongs to someone over on Fruit Street,” she said. “Let’s keep an eye on it and if no one’s claimed it in an hour, we can make some calls.”
Outside the view of patrons is a large stockroom with its own loading dock, a finishing room for binding and completing projects, and a lunchroom with a kitchen. MacColl credits architect Tris Metcalfe with finding ways to divide the space and yet keep it open and fluid at the same time.
“I see some print shops,” she said, “and they’re all painted grey. They’ve got these huge, loud machines, the lighting is harsh, and people spend their whole day walking around on cement. It’s not how I’d want to spend my time.”
And at Paradise Copies, she doesn’t.•