BY HEATHER DUBIN | In a tiny space crammed with six pieces of office machinery and packed with supplies from Elmer’s Glue to rubber stamps, Santo and Margaret Mollica make it happen.
The couple have run The Source Unltd print and copy shop on E. Ninth St. in the East Village since 1982. Together, they have provided the neighborhood, where they also live, with more than 30 years of service.
For their long staying power, and connection to the area, the two were recently honored with the 2013 Outstanding Pigeon Award from the East Village Community Coalition. A celebration was held at La Mama on Oct. 22 at E.V.C.C.’s annual gala, where the couple were presented with the small business award. Local restaurant Veselka, another business mainstay, catered the event.
The Mollicas recently talked with The Villager about their shop, the neighborhood and their new elevation to “Pigeon” status. The two stood behind the counter of their small, 300-square-foot store as they spoke, while customers filtered in and out. With the Mollicas was Curtis, their 3-year-old pit bull, a rescue dog who is named for soul singer Curtis Mayfield.
“It was the first one they ever gave out. We want the rat one next year,” Santo joked of the E.V.C.C. honor.
Santo, who is also a musician, noted that the neighborhood has drastically changed from when they first opened shop during the height of the East Village’s drug scene.
“Now it’s more commercial — there’s us, and two to three other storefronts,” he said.
Margaret — who maintains the store’s website — recalled how art galleries popped up in the area in the mid-1980s, and a new group of people surfaced to patronize their shop.
The couple have had a few court battles with their landlord, in the 1990s and early 2000s, but they prevailed, allowing them to remain on E. Ninth. Affordable rent has also contributed to their longevity. Margaret estimated rent for new stores on the block at $6,000 to $7,000 per month.
“It’s the survival award,” Santo deadpanned. “We’re here still after all that’s gone down. We’re still doing it.”
Business blossomed after Santo started doing layouts and design for people.
“As an industry, the business started growing, too,” he recalled. “There was no FedEx or Staples back then. It was a printing world, and more complicated.”
Computers have been pivotal in reshaping the future of print and copy. While today a person can make a magazine at home, the Mollicas are still in business, partly because one cannot print while mobile. Additionally, out-of-control prices for print cartridges have also helped.
“To save time, we tell customers to e-mail us their files, and we’ll do it for you,” Margaret said. “Now we reach more people, believe it or not.”
The couple made labels for the current Dutch Masters painting exhibit at the Frick Collection, and a rubber office stamp for the American Museum of Natural History.
“It’s stuff you wouldn’t expect,” Margaret noted.
Other customers are international travelers, like the person from Australia who needed to print out “The Book of Mormon” theater tickets, or people in town for a business trip who need a presentation printed for a conference.
“It used to be neighborhood local jobs, but now the neighborhood is global,” Santo said. He was positive about this transformation, noting he has reaped business from Yelp, as well.
“It opens things up,” he added.
They get more than 100 walk-in customers daily, plus e-mails.
There is a bulletin board outside the shop covered with fliers about shows, sales or neighborhood events, reminiscent of a time when the East Village was covered with such signs everywhere.
Margaret tries to buy products locally when she can, and features greetings cards by local artists in the shop.
Surprised by the award, the couple were humble about their role in the community.
“We’ve been here all this time, doing our own thing,” Santo said. “We haven’t been part of any group.”
“We still love it here, despite all the changes,” Margaret said. “It feels like home to me.”