Omoi Zakka Shop is one of the stops on the crawl

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Michael McGettigan has a way to momentarily relieve fellow Philadelphians of their ever-present digital footprint and get holiday shopping done at the same time: he’s hosting what he believes is the city’s first “stationery crawl.”

Set for Saturday, Dec. 18, the free event starts in University City at the corner of 34th and Walnut. The route has a dozen small businesses on the agenda, including stops in University City, Old City, Chinatown, and West Market Street.

“This is very much the season to mull over planners and notebooks and journals and diaries and pens and pencil sets. No one goes, ‘Oh, there’s grandad’s old email,’” said McGettigan. “I believe people are really sick of the online world, and looking at stationery items offers a bit of reaction and connection.”

The owner of Trophy Bikes, McGettigan is known for creating unique events. Among the best-known is PubLetters. Held at bars across the city, he would bring stamps, postcards, envelopes, and a sheet of paper with the addresses of famous people — President Obama, the inventor of Sriracha hot sauce, the Pope, John Legend — and invite people to put down their phones and write out their thoughts.

That’s what inspired the idea for the stationery crawl, McGettigan said. He hopes to tap into the excitement that comes with getting new school supplies, something many people recall from school. Adults experience that type of joy when they receive a postcard or letter, he pointed out.

Letter writing rose in popularity during pandemic lockdowns. With people spending more and more of their time in digital spaces, from Zoom meetings to online shopping to virtual school and streaming entertainment, putting pen to paper offered a different way to connect. A project called Penpalooza signed up 9,000 people, and dozens of smaller programs connected bored children with lonely seniors as pen-pals.

“The turning of the year is often used as a moment to reflect and memorialize goals, ideas and thoughts,” McGettigan said. “Oftentimes when you pick up a phone, there are so many distractions to pull you away from focusing on those resolutions.”

The Philly Stationery Crawl will visit 12 stores, though only a couple are being shared in advance.

“While some of the places are obvious,” the organizer said, “there will be stores that will surprise people. For instance, one [is] a fashion store. I expect many people to express they didn’t know a particular store was even here.”

The crawl will kick off promptly at noon. Anyone who misses the start will have the opportunity to get updates by following the @freehandphl on Instagram, and can try to catch up with the group at a different location. Everything finishes at Fergie’s Pub, located at 1214 Sansom St., where stamps will be available to use the materials gathered and send letters or postcards to loved ones.

“Philadelphia is the place where stationery started,” McGettigan said, referencing Benjamin Franklin. “It’s in Philadelphia’s DNA that we have a journaling and self-improvement culture.”

Stops on the first Philly Stationery Crawl include:

Avril 50
3406 Sansom St.
Known for its selection of postcards, global magazines, and extremely strong coffee.

Omoi Zakka Shop
41 S. 3rd St.
A Japanese-inspired gifts, stationery and magazine shop, with items from Traveler’s Company and organizer sets from Tokyo.

All participants must show a vax card, have masks to wear indoors, and bring SEPTA fare — there’s one El ride in the tour.