Geraldine O’Hagan purchased Rugg Road Paper Company in May of 2018, and less than two years later, the operation was running relatively seamlessly.
At first, she had to contend with the shop’s declining orders for custom stationary, which had long been one of its most reliable money-makers before falling off due to the increasing ease of ordering those items online, especially since Rugg Road doesn’t have a full-service website.
Through positive word of mouth from customers, Geraldine was able to rebuild that side of the business, she said, and to help Rugg Road overcome what was then its biggest obstacle until the pandemic hit. The public-health crisis then brought the postponement of many weddings, along with the cancellation of many orders for custom invitations to those nuptials.
When lockdown went into effect, and the shop’s employees were put on temporary leave, Maureen, Geraldine’s daughter and a seventh-grader at Newton Country Day who has pitched in at Rugg Road practically since the day her mother took over the business, began making deliveries of jigsaw puzzles, notebooks and other small items around the neighborhood.
It also wasn’t unusual during lockdown, Geraldine said, for people walking by to knock on the shop’s door when they would see something in the window that caught their eye. She would then make arrangements to put the desired item in a bag and leave it outside the customer’s door for delivery.
Other times, Geraldine would receive a call from a passerby who saw an item they wanted to buy while she and Maureen were at home in Charles River Square watching a movie, and Geraldine would be at the shop moments later to handle the transaction personally.
When Rugg Road was allowed to reopen in early June with limited occupancy, it began, Geraldine said, with a “small rollout with limited hours because we didn’t know what to expect,” even though she had already taken the steps of installing a “tap-and-go” credit card reader, a screen in front of the cash register and a hand-sanitizing station.
The first week back was admittedly slow-going, Geraldine said, but by the next week, customers felt more confortable and began returning to the shop in greater numbers.
Rugg Road went on to do a brisk business in November and December, and Geraldine was able to hire back her staff for the holiday season.
“It was all about community because people wanted to shop locally,” Geraldine said. “[Rugg Road] is very welcoming, and people like it here. I’ve gotten to know many wonderful families and people since I’ve been here. Some people come in every day just to chat.”
Rugg Road first opened in the Allston-Brighton area approximately 30 years ago, Geraldine said, and relocated to Charles Street around two years later. Since that time, it has become one of Charles Street’s longest-standing retail establishments.
The shop, under Geraldine’s ownership, meanwhile, began stocking items made by local artists, which have proven popular with customers.
“You can buy a card made locally by all these amazing artists,” she said. “I find that people are looking to support [them].”
As she looks ahead to 2021, Geraldine eagerly awaits welcoming tourists to Boston again, and with vaccinations looming, she has high hopes for increasingly more weddings to get back underway.
“We’ll always have our door open, and I’d like to be able to see the tourists come back and discover Boston and come into the store,” Geraldine said. “I feel like I represent Boston by meeting them and talking to them. Hopefully, we’ll also go back to having weddings, and a lot of disappointed brides and grooms will finally have their day.” Rugg Road Paper Company (ruggroadpaper.com) is located at 105 Charles St., and can be reached at 617-742-0002 or via email at [email protected].