Yes, it’s a paper store, but it feels somehow limiting to call it that when you can fill your basket with fountain pens, Cavallini stickers, washi tape, twig pencils, paper butterfly garlands, Moleskine journals, Yellow Owl stamp sets, and Piperoid robots – self-assembly required on that last one.
How Two Hands Began
In 1993 Diana Philips started a small book bindery on Pearl Street. She needed to supply a name for the phone book (remember those days?!) and figured that she made everything with her own “two hands,” so why not?
When Mia Semingson moved from California to Boulder in 1995 to pursue an MFA in photography and digital media at CU, she came upon Diana’s store. In addition to bookbinding, Two Hands had recently begun taking paper to sell on consignment and Diana was doing so well through those sales that her business model had started to morph.
Mia had always been fascinated by bookbinding, and she started to apprentice under Diana and reinvigorate that side of the business. Diana also hired her to work in Two Hands’ second location at Flatiron Crossings.
Mia eventually went on to teach in CU’s art department for over a decade, but bookbinding remained a true love and she kept that spark lit by continuing it in her home studio.
Keeping the Paperie Alive
In November 2009 Mia stopped by Two Hands and Diana dropped a bomb: she was closing up shop. Mia was stunned.
“I couldn’t imagine Boulder without it,” she says. “I was in shock. It was the first store I fell in love with when I moved here.” Mia pressed Diana further, and asked her if she would consider selling it instead of closing up shop.
“Well,” Diana said, “I might sell it to you.”
Although she had never dreamed of going into retail, Mia went home that day, sat down with her husband, Gerald Trainor, and asked him how he felt about co-owning a store with her.
Once they got into the meat of the discussion, it turned out both of them were very open to a life change. They decided to jump in and give it everything they had.
Caretakers of a Community Fixture
Things fell into place extremely quickly, and Mia and Gerald were proud new parents of Two Hands in January 2010. Mia says the learning curve was incredibly steep. “I’d worked in retail, so that wasn’t anything new. But being the business owner was! I had to learn how to order, source, go to trade shows, work with reps, hire employees.”
“It got easier. And I love that I still get to be creative, still get to be part of the community. I’m interfacing with people all the time, getting to know people who shop at my store who are excited to come in and show us what they made.”
Mia points out that while, technically, it’s their store, they are more like caretakers of a fixture in the community. She admires the former owner’s business acumen tremendously. “I get to take pleasure in carrying on Diana’s vision. Sometimes when I’m trying to figure something out, I ask myself, ‘What would Diana do?’ “
Partners in All Things
One of Mia and Gerald’s biggest challenges is that they are spouses as well as business partners. They have to set careful boundaries around when the work talk ends for the day. Their best solution is to get away, often to southern Utah with their 11-year-old son where they float down rivers, camp, and leave their iPhones behind. “Learning how to unplug is the constant challenge.”
Mia works in the store and teaches classes at Two Hands, from bookbinding to paper flower making. Gerald runs the online side of the business out of their home.
They are currently developing their own product line, such as paper made from 100% recycled T-shirts from India that they package up as stationery, and their own card line is also in the works.
Another Kind of Creativity
To unwind or decompress, Mia likes to get out of her head and explore things that aren’t related to business. That’s why she dances with Samba Colorado, a Brazilian professional dance troupe. She loved dancing all through her youth — ballet, tap, modern, African, and Afro Cuban — but stopped when she went to grad school.
When she and Gerald bought Two Hands, Mia vowed to reignite that passion.
“What I love about it is the diversity of people who are involved in the samba community (dancers, musicians, and people who just appreciate the art form) with participants from all over the globe and ages ranging from people in their 20s to their 70s. As my teacher says, ‘You’ll never see a pissed-off samba dancer.’ From my personal experience, this is true!”