Graz has a wealth of small creative businesses and traditional specialised shops woven into its urban fabric, which bind community and architecture into a living city centre. It’s a valuable asset that could disappear if we don’t sustain it by ‘shopping local’.
In the second of the ‘Shop Local’ series, Kate Howlett-Jones takes a look at the Störtz Füllfederhaus on Jakominiplatz, Graz.
While I’m talking to the owner of the Störtz Füllfederhaus, Wolf Lang, a little girl comes into the shop to look for her first school inkpen. He carefully talks her through the range, and she settles on a simple model in yellow plastic. Lang gives her a free packet of patterned ink cartridges to go with it. The sale is probably worth all of 10 euros, yet he takes the same serious care as if it were one of his top-of-the-range Mont Blancs (one of which he recently sold for 17,000 euros). “These are my most important customers, because they are lifelong,” Lang tells me, as the girl skips out of the door. “I still have people coming here 30 years later saying, I bought my first school pen from you.”
The interior is the kind of treasure trove that delights children and adults alike. Hundreds of jewel-like fountain pens, biros and pencils are laid out in rows under the glass-topped counter. There are antique rarities and curious wall displays, and a beautiful pewtery old safe. On a shelf, a glass box contains a meticulous scale model of the Füllfederhaus, about 50cm high, in minute detail right down to the bubble gum machine on the facade.
The building itself is one of the oldest houses in Graz. Its clay floor cellar once served as the well chamber where local people collected their water. Today, signs painted on the cellar wall still read “Luftschutzkeller” – air raid shelters from the Second World War. It has since become something of an oasis, located as it is on Jakominiplatz opposite the budget supermarket (until 15 years ago the Opernkino cinema), tucked back from the street and squeezed between the pizzeria and the derelict Reformhaus with its broken windows and peeling blue paint (now a deep freeze unit for a cut-price bakery).
It is not easy for a business like this to survive here, high rents being one challenge, and also the drift of businesses to out-of-town locations—lawyers, for instance. “They used to drop in on their way back from court trials to their offices in the Graz city centre. If they lost, they’d buy a pen to comfort themselves, if they won, they’d buy a pen to celebrate.”
A heap of parcels is sitting on the counter ready to be collected. Repairs and refills still represent a large part of Lang’s business, heartening to see in our age of the throwaway culture. This is one of the last shops of its kind in Europe, however—you would have to go as far as Bologna or Paris to find anything similar. Originally, when Mr. Störtz opened the Füllfederhaus in 1918, six assistants sat in the back room constantly fixing seals; Lang still has some of the original tools dating back to then. He himself learned servicing skills at the Mont Blanc headquarter in Hamburg.
Lang also shows me his specialist architect pens, including a 0.2 width lead drafting pencil, chunky neon clutch pencils and a top-quality fountain pen that can draw a perfectly even stroke over one metre long. It is hard not to be infected by his steady enthusiasm for all of his pens, from the quietly gleaming luxury models, to the immaculate biros, to the vibrant school inkpens. I imagine the little girl at home now with her bright yellow pen, taking it in and out of its box and arranging the cartridges ready for school in September, just as delighted as the owner of the 17,000 euro fountain pen bought on Jakominiplatz.