- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2000

In the age of computers, penmanship seems an ancient art. Yet behind a curtain of tech-savvy Washingtonians, there is a group that appreciates pens above all.

Fahrney's Pens store downtown has been catering to those with fancy pen tastes since 1929. At family-owned Fahrney's one can buy pens from $12 to a fountain pen worth $56,000.

"The pen is the extension of your own soul," said Chris Sullivan, president of Fahrney's. "You write differently depending on your mood that day. It's a very special instrument."

Fahrney's is comprised of a store and a warehouse in Upper Marlboro, which houses the corporate office and the catalogue division.

An unusual business in today's high-tech age, there are just three other pen specialty stores in the Washington area. There are only about 50 such stores in the whole country.

Mr. Sullivan is particularly busy these days, as Fahrney's prepares to move into a new location on F Street, a once-bustling shopping district that civic leaders hope to revive. Fahrney's will be one of several stores and restaurants opening doors there this summer.

Earl Fahrney started the business more than 70 years ago as a small pen repair shop inside the Willard Hotel, where lobbyists hovered around politicians. Traffic at the four-employee store was busy, even though the country was suffering through the Great Depression.

Later Fahrney's moved to a location on New York Avenue, and it was still there in 1972 when the Sullivans purchased the store. Carinne Sullivan, Mr. Sullivan's mother, attended school with Mr. Fahrney's children, who did not want to take over the family business. So the Sullivans stepped in and bought the enterprise.

Mr. Fahrney remained with the company until he passed away a few years later. The Sullivans grew the company, creating a catalogue division in 1976. In the first year, 30,000 catalogues where mailed out across the country. Today, 2.5 million copies in six editions are sent all over the globe each year.

The catalogue offers a wide variety of pens and stationary, provides a history of pens and gives instructions on different ways to write with fountain pens.

After the June 12 grand opening of the new store, Mr. Sullivan will turn his efforts into expanding Fahrney's Web site. Now customers can view catalogues and download purchase orders. When the new site in unveiled this fall, www.fahrneyspens.com, customers will be able to purchase pens on line.

Fountain pens, which make up 40 percent of sales at Fahrney's, are favorites among people who write a lot because, unlike ball point pens, they glide easily across the page.

Fountain pens, the most expensive of pens, were invented in New York City in 1884 and became popular between the 1920s and 1930s when Fahrney's opened for business.

Today, Fahrney's most loyal customers are professional men in their 30s and 50s. But Mr. Sullivan said women are showing greater interest in "nice pens."

Jo-Ann Neuhaus has worked in downtown for about 30 years. A pen lover, she often goes to Fahrney's. The most expensive pen she got from there was worth just under $100. It was a gift from her husband for her 50th birthday not too long ago.

Both Ms. Neuhaus and another faithful customer, Mel Strohminger, a social science research analyst with the Social Security Administration in Baltimore, remember Fahrney's from its early days, when it was at the Willard.

Mr. Strohminger has a collection of several thousand pens. He has been a regular at Fahrney's since the late 1960s, and has purchased close to 500 pens there.

The most expensive pen he got at Fahrney's was an 18-carat gold Mont Blanc Diplomat for $2,000 in the late 1970s. Today, the German-made pen is worth between $12,000 and $15,000.

"In my job I do a lot of writing, so I like the … sensation of writing," he said.

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