Notes & Queries, Leading US Distributor Of UK Publishers Celebrates 40th Anniversary

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Notes & Queries, the Baltimore-based greeting card distributor that has been ‘home’ to over 100 different UK publishers looking to crack America over the last four decades.

The brainchild of Alan Harnik, a very well-known face in the UK greeting card scene, his mission for Notes & Queries remains as true today as it was when he first founded the company, to bring beautifully designed paper products into the US.

“We’ve been ‘pushing the envelope for 40 years!” says Alan Harnik, president of the company: “My inspiration has always been creativity in the graphic arts: composition, line and tone, surfaces and depths, inventive finishes, imaginative colours, unexpected subjects, beautiful materials, in endlessly wonderful combinations. I see greeting cards as an art form and I have always looked for companies that share my focus on outstanding creativity and design,” he told PG Buzz.

Above: Notes & Queries has been instrumental in building many card publishers’ export business in the States over the last four decades.
Above: Notes & Queries has been instrumental in building many card publishers’ export business in the States over the last four decades.

Among the 31 card publishers Notes & Queries currently distributes in the US include Belly Button Designs, Caroline Gardner, Counting Stars, Museums & Galleries, Paper Salad, The Art File, Rachel Ellen, Redback Cards and Rosanna Rossi Designs.

Having straddled both the US and UK markets for so many years, Alan is well qualified to comment on the changing shape of the industry both sides of the Atlantic.

“As in the US, I feel the UK greeting card market is at a crossroads. I sense independent, dedicated card and gift stores are struggling to keep their doors open on the High Street. Even so, focused stores like Paperchase, Scribbler, Oliver Bonas, and on the independent front, Postmark, continue to impress, as their respective successes are based on their curated collections. As in the US, there is a renaissance of new publishers entering the UK marketplace with new designs, new finishes, on new kinds of papers that take ink in new and unexpected ways.”

Above: Alan selling from his small pushcart at Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace in May 1982. 
Above: Alan selling from his small pushcart at Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace in May 1982.

Although Alan’s daughter Vanessa, vp of sales and marketing has played an instrumental role in the business for over 20 years this year marks the start of an official transition of her taking over the day to day running of the company from her father in two years time.

“I am planning to go part time from 2021, but will remain very involved, but will spend more time working with our UK publishing partners to on the product front,” Alan confirmed.

Vanessa has definitely earned her spurs. Right at the start of Notes & Queries before Alan had any employees, Vanessa, helped in making up sample sets to give to the company’s sales agents. “In 1983-84, Vanessa and her brother Paul ‘earned their keep’ by stickering cards on our living room floor.  It was a decade later, in 1995-96, when I was commuting back and forth between Baltimore and Palo Alto, California, where my wife, Gillian had a fellowship, and Vanessa was thinking about a new job, that I suggested that she might work again for Notes & Queries.  This time I had more incentives to offer: our home, so she could save money on rent and our car. The experiment was to last just one year. Now, nearly 24 years later, Vanessa is poised to take on the second generation of Notes & Queries,” says Alan.

Above: Alan and his daughter Vanessa, who has been involved in the company for the last 24 years, at the 2010 National Stationery Show in New York.  Vanessa wears a Bright Side apron from Really Good with the message ‘Warning: Artiste at Work’.
Above: Alan and his daughter Vanessa, who has been involved in the company for the last 24 years, at the 2010 National Stationery Show in New York.  Vanessa wears a Bright Side apron from Really Good with the message ‘Warning: Artiste at Work’.

Admitting the similarities and differences with his daughter, Alan says “Both Vanessa and I have very strong opinions and we express them in heated frank and honest ways! We have different approaches to risk: I tend to be more open to risk taking, while Vanessa takes more, as she would say, ‘calculated risks’.”

Paying tribute to their winning working and personal relationship, Alan adds: “I believe we owe Notes & Queries’ success over the years to the fact that, while we have different views on many things, we have similar ideas about art and design and share very core values in management.”

A full article on Notes & Queries appears in the February issue of PG (click to pages 67-69).

Above: Alan and Vanessa back in 1979. Now she is readying to take over the running of the business.
Above: Alan and Vanessa back in 1979. Now she is readying to take over the running of the business.

Top: Alan and Vanessa Harnik at the recent Top Drawer show.

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