Craft shop puts personal stamp on community
Among the proprietors of the town’s mom-and-pop stores, one stands out for her remarkable staying power and community involvement.
Joan Bunte, the owner of Stamp Your Heart Out—the go-to destination for local and visiting crafters’ stamping and scrap-booking needs—has become one of the most recognizable faces in the Village.
Along with providing a space for people to shop and to experiment with the latest crafting equipment and techniques, Ms. Bunte is one of the co-founders of the Village Marketing Group (VMG), which organizes activities to draw shoppers far and wide to the city of Claremont.
Among other activities, the VMG, also directed by local entrepreneurs Sonja Stump (Sonja Stump Photography), Lori Paley of Aromatique and Diana Miller of Colors 91711, is responsible for Claremont’s Blues & Brews event, Wine Walk and the annual distribution of trick-or-treating candy by Village merchants.
While the Village Marketing Group’s many activities are time-consuming, they pay off in spades, Ms. Bunte said.
“Walk around on any weekend night and you can see the difference in the amount of people,” she said.
She is also an active supporter of the nonprofit organization Shoes That Fit, helping low-income kids by working each fall to fill dozens of backpacks with shoes and school supplies and each spring to enlist customers and Claremont merchants to fill a basket with footwear and Easter treats.
And then there’s the small matter of Ms. Bunte’s Power of Pink project. Inspired by a Stamp Your Heart Out employee who is a breast-cancer survivor, she collects hundreds of hand-knitted or crocheted pink scarves each year to give to those recovering from the devastating disease.
This rosy-hued endeavor has netted 7500 scarves over the years, which have been distributed locally to breast cancer survivors at Pomona Valley and San Antonio Hospitals as well as to City of Hope in Duarte and a cancer center in Mexico. Ms. Bunte’s 97-year-old mother, Louise Shepley, is one of the most enthusiastic participants, knitting at least 100 pink scarves annually.
In addition, Ms. Bunte collects money for breast cancer research from customers who, after engaging in one of Stamp Your Heart Out’s free make-and-take craft demonstrations, opt to make a $1 donation.
Claremonter Connie Weber, who stopped by Stamp Your Heart Out to engage in a Christmas tree card make-and-take activity, marveled at Ms. Bunte’s many activities, including the institution of the pumpkin-carving and scarecrow contests at the Village Venture.
“I look back and Joan has spearheaded so many things. She’s a Village treasure,” Ms. Weber said.
The reasoning behind Ms. Bunte’s giving ways is simple.
“I believe that if you live in a community, you give back to that community,” she said.
Crafting a livelihood
Ms. Bunte first set up shop in Claremont in 1980, joining 2 other business partners who had purchased a store called Craft Designs. It was located where the restaurant Tutti Mangia now stands. Shortly after, however, it moved to Harvard Square as one of the shopping complex’s inaugural businesses.
At first, the store focused largely on selling wares by local artisans on consignment. Realizing that there was more money to be made in supplying materials for local crafters, Ms. Bunte soon began frequenting gift shows, picking up stamps. In case you’re one of the few Claremont residents unfamiliar with her Harvard Avenue shop, we’re talking not about the kind of stamps you affix to the edge of envelopes, but the kind whose designs you press into an inkpad and then use to embellish paper.
Ms. Bunte says she was lucky to be on the ground floor of the stamping craze, which grew in intensity through the 1980s. Soon, she had an idea that, while it intrigued Ms. Bunte, worried a few people enough they considered staging an intervention.
“One friend called another friend and said, ‘Do you think we should have a conversation with Joan? She’s going to open a store that only sells stamps,” Ms. Bunte said.
Despite such concerns, Ms. Bunte opened the doors of Stamp Your Heart Out in 1989. When a larger location became available, she moved the shop to its current locale at 141-C Harvard Ave., adding a scrap-booking shop next door, acknowledging another growing trend in crafting.
“I think people like scrap-booking because they’re preserving their family memories—getting those photos out of the shoebox or off the hardrive,” Ms. Bunte said. “It’s something you can do simply or extravagantly.”
Owning a crafting store is not the profession Ms. Bunte, who earned dual bachelor’s degrees in communications and agriculture from Southern Illinois University, envisioned while growing up.
Crafts are not alien, however, for the shop-owner. Her mother was a seamstress and so she spent hours as a girl making creations out of the piles of lace, material, buttons and ribbons lying around her house. She later sewed clothes for her son and 2 daughters, Ms. Bunte notes. And, over the years, her love of stamping and scrap-booking has grown along with her business.
“It’s definitely therapeutic. We’ve got one girl working here whose other job is really high-stress,” she said. “When she comes here, it’s a way for her to download that stress.”
Keeping a business afloat hasn’t always been easy, Ms. Bunte emphasized. While she weathered recessions in the 1990s, the crash of 2008 was particularly hard.
“In other recessions, we were able to stay in business because of what we sold. Someone could still come in and get a stamp and some ink and paper for $10 and create custom cards,” she said. “This was different. People were scared and didn’t even want to spend $10. And who wouldn’t be, when the headlines were so scary.”
Some would say that Ms. Bunte’s ability to weather the storm comes from a combination of her business acumen and her tireless striving to promote Village merchants. She, however, attributes the store’s success to something different.
“The people I employ in the store have worked here a long time and they’re all incredibly talented. They’re the magic that makes it work.”
For more information on Ms. Bunte’s store and the many classes, demonstrations and activities that employees and community members host there, visit www.stampyourheart.com or call 621-4363.