Alan Cohen moved to Chapel Hill in 1996 to escape the Connecticut winters he'd lived through for 45 years. When he arrived, he opened a store — Office Supplies & More, on Franklin Street.
The card, gift and office supply store is now named Crazy Alan’s Emporium, and Cohen has embraced the nickname, saying it's "a great name for the store."
“People come in and they just want to meet Crazy Alan — just to see if there is a Crazy Alan,” Cohen said.
But now, after more than 20 years in Chapel Hill, Crazy Alan's Emporium is closing on August 23 as Cohen is retiring.
He said the outpour of telling the Chapel Hill community he is retiring has been incredible.
“I am stoked with my decision of closing August 23,” Cohen said. “It's been a wonderful run."
Alina Gabitov, an employee at Crazy Alan’s Emporium, has been working for Cohen for almost two years. She said Cohen is a very caring person — from buying her lunch once a week to being almost like a "cool uncle."
“He's got so many interesting stories and he knows so many cool people,” Gabitov said. “And it's just he gets so passionate about pens too. It's very, very sweet, I just love to hear him talking to customers and tell them all about his stuff.”
In 2014, Cohen began attending pen shows in large cities across the U.S. showcasing a variety of different pens he carries in the store.
Now, Crazy Alan’s Emporium is one of the largest pen stores in the United States, according to Cohen.
Hollis Oberlies, a graphic designer and owner of a line of cards called PurpleZante, has worked with Cohen for seven years.
“Alan was the first person who carried my cards and he didn't know me and I walked in and introduced myself and showed him some prototypes right before the cards were printed and he said 'Sure you get those cards made and bring them on in',” Oberlies said. “I love that Alan was just like willing to take on the small beans little card company it was super cool.”
Cohen said there is a possibility of someone buying the store, although they would move the store to a smaller location.
Since its opening, Cohen has changed the location of the store three times before settling down in 2005 at 1129 Weaver Dairy Rd in Timberlyne Village.
Cohen said that the original store on Franklin Street did not do enough business with just students, and parking on Franklin discouraged Chapel Hill residents from coming to the store.
So, after personal and financial struggles with the store there, Cohen decided to switch locations to allow for more business with the Chapel Hill community and changed store names.
“The name didn't draw the people in Office Supplies & More,” Cohen said. “They didn't look at the 'more' but Crazy Alan, you got to come in and see what it's all about and that's what people do, they come in and they go, 'Oh, I like this store,' but it was the same store, we just got more people.”
He said that although he will be closing the store, he plans to continue traveling for pen shows, taking a plane across the country or driving in his Toyota Sienna with all his merchandise on the road.
In retirement, he plans to spend more time with his two grandchildren, resting and perhaps traveling to Italy.
Having been a gifted athlete when he was younger, Cohen also plans to continue fueling his passion for sports and competitive nature, especially in baseball and basketball.
His next pen show is in two weeks in Atlanta, with others following in the upcoming months. Alan will be traveling in and out of the store, until its closing in August.
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