A distinct aroma of incense fills the air as a fantasy world of hidden gems and must-haves scatter the shelves of the shop.
Located at 218 N. LBJ Dr., sits a store full of creativity, charm and community. A store like no other, Heartworks Co. Paper Bear, has become the place where the community connects with items they never knew they needed.
Heartworks Co. Paper Bear was founded in 1978 by Carol Powers and was originally known as Heartworks Co. At the time, Powers was a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. Powers said she had trouble finding a job and decided to open up a store to sell handcrafted items such as jewelry and pottery. Once the store gained popularity, Powers said she began stocking unique and quirky items influenced by customer requests.
As the store expanded in inventory, Powers decided to set up an additional store named Paper Bear, stocked with stationery items such as cards, journals and other paper products. Eventually, the two stores formed into Heartworks Co. Paper Bear. Despite the name merger, customers referred to the store as Paper Bear.
In 1988, Powers increased the retail space by opening up the current store’s location which at the time served as a large gift shop. It was during the Great Recession when Powers decided to consolidate the merchandise of both locations into one store.
After serving the San Marcos community for 41 years, Powers decided to retire and close down Paper Bear. Powers said she has been trying to retire for the last 15 years, but it was not until the past five years that she felt she was ready to let the store go.
When Powers began notifying the community that she would be closing down the store, she said she received a much bigger reaction than expected. She said the community’s reaction allowed her to realize that people’s lives are intertwined with the store.
“They’ve brought in their children and their grandchildren and have created this connection with the store that I never really thought about,” Powers said.
With the store closing, Powers said she will miss the interaction with her customers the most. She said many customers have made the store their own personal getaway from reality.
“A lot of people would come in during their lunch break and it would be a great way for them to de-stress or to come in and get away from things,” Powers said.
Despite the tears and disappointment brought with the announcement of the store’s closing, Powers said customers have been understanding and have expressed their happiness for her.
In addition to serving as a store for the community to shop, Paper Bear has been a store for the community to sell. Lisa McPike Smith has been selling beads and other ceramic goods to Paper Bear on and off for 30 years.
McPike Smith said she found out about the store while she was a student at Southwest Texas State.
“It was one of those cool little shops that I happened to find,” McPike Smith said.
While at Southwest Texas State, McPike Smith said she studied ceramics and would purchase beads and wire material from Paper Bear to make jewelry.
In 1989, McPike Smith received her first professional gig from Paper Bear when she sold skull-shaped ceramic beads to the store.
Although she is disappointed she will no longer be able to sell her work to the store, she said she is relieved Powers will finally be able to retire.
“It’s sad that I’ll be missing out on that part of my successful business life, but I know Carol wants to move on and I think it’s a good thing,” McPike Smith said. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and something good will take its place.”
Indica Smith is a San Marcos native and grew up shopping at Paper Bear. She said her mother was a jewelry maker and would buy beads and wires from the store. Smith followed her mother’s footsteps and began to make jewelry herself with supplies from Paper Bear.
Smith said she worked at Paper Bear’s jewelry counter for seven years after she turned 18.
“It was the best job I’ve ever had and the experience itself will always hold a close place to my heart,” Smith said.
Smith said she is heartbroken that the store will soon close its doors. Once the store closes, Smith said she will miss the people who worked at Paper Bear the most and hopes she will be able to stay in contact with them.
“As sad as it is to see it go, I understand that sometimes things come to an end,” Smith said.
Paper Bear’s unique atmosphere is what intrigued Smith to continue to shop at the store. She said it is a store where she can find things she would not be able to find anywhere else.
“The majority of my apartment looks like it has come from the store,” Smith said. “The store has inspired how my home is and how my home feels.”
Throughout the years, Paper Bear’s charisma has captivated the hearts of the San Marcos community for both locals and those new in town.
Pam Stephan, Paper Bear customer, was introduced to the store 20 years ago. At the time, Stephan moved to San Marcos from Fort Worth after her husband had been hired as a professor at Southwest Texas State.
Stephan was a member of University Women, a social club for women whose husbands worked at the university. She said Paper Bear was one of the first places the women of the club recommended that she visit because it was the most interesting shop in town.
Stephan said when she stepped into the store she was amazed at the eclectic atmosphere and the variety of items in the store.
“They had things that would bring up good memories and stuff that were forward and futuristic looking,” Stephan said. “Somehow it all worked together despite the wide range of clientele.”
Stephan said she is sad to see Paper Bear go, for it has become a touchstone for individuals to express their own personalities.
“All of the people that shop in there certainly come from the broad spectrum of our community,” Stephan said. “The store has something that appeals to everybody in this town.”
Stephan said she had always thought of Paper Bear as an institution of the city and was shocked when she heard it would be closing down. She said the store was almost like a community center and would run into someone she knew each time she visited.
“People just don’t shop there, they visit with each other, recommend things and have a good time,” Stephan said. “It’s like a little social hub.”
Powers plans to officially close the store at the end of March. However, she said she has received several offers from people interested in purchasing and taking over the store. Although nothing has been finalized, Powers said she hopes things work out and she will find someone to keep the store running.
For more information on Paper Bear visit its website paperbear.com or follow it on Instagram @paperbearsm.