The buzz started quickly once Elisabeth Rose opened its doors in downtown Davidson, NC. The quaint Main Street is a hub, with a bustling campus, local shops, and beloved restaurants. Naturally, newcomers are always of interest in this tight-knit community. Elisabeth Rose, a full-service stationary shop/special occasion services center managed to fit in seamlessly.
The shop is nestled alongside Pickled Peach and across from Summit Coffee, right where the Davidson Farmers Market sets up shop every Saturday during the spring and summers. The space is both studio and store, housed in a beautiful, light-drenched, exposed-brick space that presents a proper ode to both modernity and nostalgia.
The force behind the shop is Elisabeth Connolly, a Charlotte native, who opened up for business in 2017. The storefront is the final piece for Connolly, a way of bringing all the components of her passions together. As for where her story starts, well, that’s with a big cast iron letterpress. Connolly took a few hours out of her day to tell us all about the seeds of the business, what a typical day looks like, and what’s next for Elisabeth Rose.
Tell us about the letterpress — I hear this is how it all began.
After leaving the photography business, on a whim, I searched Craigslist for a letterpress machine. I immediately found a gorgeous cast iron Samson letterpress from 1881 for sale in Annapolis, Maryland. The press spent its life aboard a U.S. Navy ship based out of Annapolis and when the ship was retired, the gentleman that ran the press years before asked if they could move it to his home. The press lived in his basement where he printed family announcements for years until he passed away — his grandchildren sold it to me. My endlessly supportive husband, Michael, our best friend and myself piled into a truck two days later and drove to Annapolis to haul all 600 pounds of the cast iron beauty up out of the basement it lived in and back to Charlotte. I set up shop in one of our guest rooms — utterly ruined the carpet with ink and grease, not sure what I was thinking — began printing sample wedding invitations and thanks to social media, word spread, one thing led to the next and here we are seven years later.
Tell us about your background in art and photography.
I took one photography class during my freshman year at UNC Charlotte and completely fell in love with shooting and processing film. During my time at UNCC, I studied a number of the studio arts — painting, graphic design, printmaking, 3D design, ceramics and the list goes on. Sometime in my junior year, I somehow managed to get a job shooting for Richard Israel [a Charlotte-based photographer]. I learned as much working for Richard as I did in my college years combined, and will forever be grateful for the chance he took when hiring me straight out of school with no “real world” experience.
And then you began working for yourself?
When I got to a place where Richard “had taught me everything he knew”, he encouraged me to step out and begin my own photography company. I hit the ground running and eagerly started booking my own wedding clients, all of who wanted digital images. About six months in, I realized I desperately missed the messy and magical side of photography — shooting film — and if I was going to be shooting all digital, editing, and delivering to the client on a disc, I needed to find a more hands-on creative outlet to do on the side.
So, what drew you to stationary specifically? What is special or important, to you, about stationary?
When we were young, my mom assigned each of us kids an elderly relative to write a letter to teach week. My person was my dear great Aunt Cindy who lived in New England. Aunt Cindy wrote back to every single letter that I sent her for years. In college we transitioned to phone calls to catch up and she taught me to fall in love with all things beautiful and refined, at the top of that list being manners and etiquette. Her engagement gift to me was my own copy of Emily Post’s “Etiquette” which still sits on my desk and referred to multiple times a week when wording client’s wedding invitations. Aunt Cindy lived till 2013, passing away just a couple of weeks before our daughter and her namesake, Cynthia Rose, was born. Her advice, encouragement and the lessons she taught me will always a key part of how we operate at Elisabeth Rose.
How do you approach producing stationery?
For me, the art of custom stationery is a combination of the tactile art of print methods, paper types, colors, shapes, and the art of etiquette and wording. I pull inspiration from the “feel” my client wants the event to have to create a design that gives guests a hint of what is to come. The same can be said about personal stationery — with a simple note card you can communicate a lot about a client’s style and personality. I absolutely love the art of capturing these things and putting them on paper. Continuity is extremely important in our designs and that takes careful planning and attention to detail in design. We create everything from the paper goods to structures we design and build for backdrops, seating chart displays, anything that continues the design, the list goes on and the possibilities are endless.
How did you settle on Davidson for the storefront?
About three years in to running the stationery business, my husband and I started planning to open a storefront. I wanted to have a space for my studio and a space for retail where I could sell my own products as well as a carefully curated selection of other stationery and gift items — my mom’s beautiful watercolor paintings printed on stationery at the top of that list — and a space for hosting classes and workshops. What we found is an absolute dream location. In 3.5 months, we designed, gutted, renovated, furnished, stocked the shelves and opened the shop. I love the laid-back pace, that the locals all know and support each other, the family-friendly environment, and the food…I love the food.
Where do you get inspiration from?
People. I love to hear their stories and I love to see what they find beauty in. I find a lot of inspiration in the quiet, blank space when I begin a design. The possibilities are endless but there’s always a personality that I am working to portray… I love that task most of all.
What’s next at the shop?
Lots! We will host classes, events and pop up shops. We have already had the opportunity to host some networking and educational events in the evenings as well as our first two calligraphy courses. This summer, we plan to teach kids’ letter writing classes in an effort to bring back the lost art of handwriting notes in this digital age.