When we moved to Warwick in 1993, Carol and David Bartnowski had, for many years, operated The Inkwell on Main Street, assisted by “Apple Betty,” Carol’s mother, their children and many local teenagers as store helpers. The family-operated business was typical of many stores on the main street of the Village of Warwick before the large influx of new families necessitated the installation of several crosswalks on Main St.
The Inkwell was sold in July 2008 to another family that continued to operate it until its last day of Jan. 30, 2017. Muhammed and Faima Ajamal had for over 40 years operated a paper goods store in Greenwich Village in New York City, but wanted to give their children a quieter life in a rural setting. When they heard The Inkwell was for sale, they immediately bought it, leaving their Greenwich Village store in the hands of Muhammed’s brother.
Continuing the tradition of friendly courtesy on Main St. and regardless of weather, Muhammed would stand in The Inkwell’s doorway, cheerfully greeting pedestrians (children called him “the smiley man”) and welcoming customers, walking inside with them to assist in their hunt for supplies. During their elementary school days, if they were home sick, children would send parents into the Village to ask “the smiley man” for crayons and a coloring book.
Over the years, almost all residents of Warwick have shopped at The Inkwell, traditionally described as an arts and crafts store, but which provided many categories of paper goods: student’s school supplies, a large inventory of art supplies ranging from water colors to oil paints to crayons, invitations for different occasions, stationery and writing paper, a selection of fine pens, and a wide selection of greeting cards. The Ajamals almost always said “yes” to any orders for printing, from business cards to stationery to posters.
Muhammed Ajamal is particularly proud to have offered Warwick-themed greeting cards and postcards, often designed by local artists, to be snapped up as souvenirs by visiting tourists as the Village of Warwick grew to attract weekend visitors. He saw a need for gifts, and provided tee shirts, jewelry, mugs, puzzles, small toys, and crafting kits.
So why the sudden closing of an established and evolved Warwick institution, a family-operated business? Surprisingly, the Ajamals are not leaving the paper goods business, but simply returning to their original Greenwich Village store because of the retirement of the brother who had been operating that store while Muhammed and Faima were busy at The Inkwell.
A large component of small town life is the daily and continuous interaction of the local business people who wish to have familiarity with their community; not for us in Warwick the impersonal presence of large box stores, with their constantly changing shifts of employees from other towns and counties. Every permanent business and service provider counts in the fabric of daily life. We all “knew” those owners and employees by first name, their children and events, and they “knew” us. News of one another might pass from the person behind the cash register to the customer and visa versa. Along with the transaction of the item being bought was the sharing of weddings, graduations, health or death, the births of children.
The recent loss of familiar faces in Warwick simply makes me sad: the deaths of treasured local businesswomen Bonnie Oswald and Debbie Iurato, the selling after many years of Larry’s Deli by the ever-cheerful and helpful Said and Fariha Hashimi (originally from Afghanistan), the closing of fine restaurants Dautaj and the Pioneer, and now the closing of The Inkwell. Even earlier, when we arrived in Warwick in the early 1990s, Bill Raynor had a quirky Main Street store offering groceries and guitar lessons, and the Quackenbushes operated the Bellvale General Store at the base of Mount Peter, where a cardboard carton of eggs would be carefully tied with string and sold with a smile. Beyond sentimental, I feel rich in the memories of cheerful, steady service from individuals and families committed to this small village and town, and these feelings and memories make me a Warwickian and beget the continuity of our community.