While her childhood peers were busy building tree forts and dressing Barbies, Kristine Lynch spent her formative years in Minneapolis enamored with an unorthodox imaginary game: playing "executive." She admits this was mainly an excuse to collect paper products—old postage stamps, envelopes pilfered from the mail, a prized rubber stamp—and hand-draw her own letterhead for what she called KMO Enterprises.
In hindsight, it's the perfect preview into the adult life of Lynch, who just opened Ostmoe, a 28-by-8-foot paper goods store tucked off Winslow Way on Bainbridge Island. "Paper has just been this ticker tape through my whole life," she says. "I have really emotional responses to text and color and the feel of really good paper."
Paper nerds may recognize Lynch as the owner of Flourish, a beloved stationery store in Wallingford from 2001–2006 and Phinney Ridge from 2013–2014. She opened Ostmoe in January, after a whirlwind few months: In October, the graphic and interior designer and serial entrepreneur had seen a "For Rent" sign in the window of a narrow space she'd coveted for years. She signed the rental agreement soon after. With about $1,000 and a lot of handy work, Lynch and her husband transformed the former architect's office into a picture-perfect display for her grown-up collection of ephemera.
"My plan was to have the retail space [in front] and a little office in the back," she says, somewhere she can sell the work of small, independent manufacturers (like Vancouver-based Porchlight Press and Moglea out of Des Moines), as well as work on her own Scandinavian-inspired designs. In such a petite space, she's had to work on curating the right balance of beautiful gift wrap, greeting cards, notebooks, office supplies, and small gifts. "I'm trying to use the shop as an incubator—what speaks to people, what doesn't, what has legs. Basically, it's everything I love in 200 square feet."
It may seem counterintuitive to lean into the analog during a year that has brought even the most stubborn Luddites online. But Lynch thinks the infiltration of technology into every aspect of our lives—how we work, how we maintain friendships, how we keep tabs on our kids and our parents—has actually forced the pendulum to swing the other direction, toward the tactile. She's seeing people buy more cards, spend more time on written communication with the people they love, because it's a break from all the emailing and Zooming and FaceTiming.
Plus, she's quick to point out that people needn't think they have to spend a lot to buy high-quality cards—letterpressed or not—and nice heavy-duty wrapping paper that isn't so transparent you can read the box underneath. "You can have really good taste, and really good things, and it doesn't have to cost you a lot more money," Lynch says, comparing her $5 or $6 cards to slightly cheaper ones at Target. "I think that idea is something that's really plagued the stationery industry for a long time."
Will Ostmoe succeed? Lynch is hopeful, because of what she says is a steadfast desire by Bainbridge residents to support their community, and also because it's such an easy walk from the ferry terminal. She's thinking of launching a gift-wrapping service, where you could drop off beautiful things you purchased elsewhere on the island and she'd make them ready for recipients. She plans to build out her website to include a robust e-commerce presence.
But Lynch is also realistic about the challenges of brick-and-mortar retail, particularly during a pandemic. From listening to her talk, success is almost beside the point. "I like to tell people [the shop is] keeping me out of trouble," she laughs. "Especially as a creative person, being cooped up at home…can be really hard psychologically. This has given me a sense of purpose."