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Longtime Cambridge stationer to close shop

Brothers Mallory (left) and Justin Slate at one of their stationery store in Harvard Square in June 2003. Brothers Mallory (left) and Justin Slate at one of their stationery store in Harvard Square in June 2003. (Tom Landers for The Boston Globe/File)
By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / February 11, 2011

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Bob Slate’s Stationer, a Harvard Square staple for more than 75 years, said it will close its three Cambridge stores by the end of March after a lengthy search for a new owner failed to yield a suitable buyer.

The decision comes weeks after a potential buyer withdrew an offer for the company, said Mallory Slate, 73, who runs the shops with his brother. The Slates put the company up for sale in 2009, optimistic that they would find a new owner to reinvent the struggling merchant, which sells rubber stamps, boxed cards, custom stationery, journals, art supplies, among other office products. Regular customers include Harvard University notables Henry Louis Gates and Laurence H. Tribe, Slate said.

The business also received four earlier offers which Slate described as “inadequate.’’

“We didn’t really feel like they wanted to take the business into the 21st century,’’ he said.

The business had to reinvent itself in the 1980s as it faced increasing competition from cheaper office supply stores such as Staples and Office Depot. During that time, it survived by creating a niche as a specialty business in an area with a high population of people with a need for writing supplies. Slate said he and his brother didn’t have the ability to make over the business again in an age when many people no longer write by hand or even have much use for paper products.

Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said she has always patronized Slate’s to buy top-quality note cards for special occasions.

“It was old world,’’ she said. “You could always find something beautiful there.’’

Bob Slate’s will launch a close-out sale in about two weeks at its two stores in Harvard Square and third in Porter Square. The company, which has lost money for the past two years, has 29 employees.

“Our children were clever enough to find another way of life than retail,’’ Slate said. “I feel very disappointed that I haven’t been able to find a buyer to keep our staff employed or keep the legacy to make our dad proud.’’

D.C. Denison of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com.

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