Central Stamp is the kind of place you walk into for no reason at all. When I asked co-owner Gabrièle Côté-LeBreux what drew her into Central Stamp as a company, she looked around and shrugged, grappling for the words that would adequately describe the little shop on Parc with so much history. “There’s just something magical about this place,” she said. I knew exactly what she meant.
In the shop window a little wooden sign reads, “Here, we materialize your imagination.” Far from a platitude, Estampe Centrale not only materializes the imagination of local Montrealers, but their entrepreneurship and creativity too. In every corner of the shop, one recognizes the symbols of independent Montreal businesses, restaurants, and cafés alike. It is a veritable shrine to the success of individuals who were brave enough to literally put their own stamp on something.
Central Stamp opened 60 years ago in Old Port, and changed hands a few times before landing in Gabrièle’s uncle’s lap 3 years ago. Gabrièle’s uncle, Stephan Derome, is the owner of the 100-year-old stamp shop A Derome in Laval, and he seized the opportunity to open shop in Montreal when he heard the previous owners of Central Stamp had decided to sell. But despite the lineage of Central Stamp’s ownership becoming a bit muddled after half a century of changing hands, the shop itself seems stoically unchanged.
Behind the shop’s front desk lies a workshop filled with an array of old machinery, knobs, ink pads, and paint, all covered in a thin layer of sawdust. I ask Gabrièle if anything has changed since Central Stamp opened 60 years ago — she thinks for a moment then answers, “computers”. She’s right; amid the clutter of aged objects that fill the shop, there are two computers that are currently being used to work on designs, and a huge hulk of a printing machine in the back that carves the stamps. “They make things more time efficient, but we still hand-make as much as we can.” I don’t doubt it. Like a used book shop or vintage store, Central Stamp’s insistence on holding on to the shop’s heritage and handcrafting lends it an antique feel. That charm is what draws people in from the street everyday. It’s certainly what drew me in.
While working as a replacement for her cousin last year, Gabrièle, like many a passerby, fell in love with the place and decided to join full time in January this year. “To do something like this, you need to be really passionate about your work,” she says when I ask her about the difficulties of working in the stamp shop. She pauses a moment before adding: “and willing to not sleep or eat anything other than peanut butter.” Despite the sleepless nights, it’s the artistry of the stamp shop that makes it rewarding for her — not only the artistry of crafting the stamps themselves, but that of the clients. “People come in with their own logos or designs,” she says, “everyone has their own artistic idea… we just bring it to life.”
Foremost among these creative clients are Montreal’s third wave coffee shop owners. Gabrièle tells the story of how Luke Spicer from Café Neve came into the shop one day with a proposal. He wanted to stamp his logo on the front of his coffee cups to cut costs and lend them a handmade accent, but he wasn’t sure if it was possible. Although it had never been done before, the employees at Central Stamp broke out a rocker and managed to create the coffee cup stamp that is now visible in the little café on Rachel. Independent cafes all over Montreal soon followed suit, and suddenly Central Stamp was inundated with orders. Now their stamps line the barista bars of Café Pikolo, Dispatch, Le moineau masqué, Café Myriade, Café Parvis, Le Couteau, and L’Artiste Affamé, to name just a few. “When we walk around, we see our stamps everywhere,” Gabrièle laughs, “and it’s mostly the coffee cups.”
Central Stamp has its fair share of visiting Montreal characters too. Namely, an 80-something year-old businessman by the name of Mr Newbould that Gabrièle says looks distinctly like Al Capone. Equipped with a personal chauffeur and a bentley, Mr Newbould frequents Central Stamp for corporate stamps, but in no lesser way contributes to the magic of Central Stamp.
What makes this little stamp shop so interesting is the stories that fill it. Each one of the stamps represents a person, or a business that worked hard to get off the ground — all unique. Central Stamp has materialized the vision of hundreds of Montreal businesses that have decided exactly who they are, and what they want to look like.