Sign language JAM Paper

New York's mom-and-pop ops speak to their customers in unusual ways.

My walk to work through tourist-infused midtown is a daily test of will. But for the past several years, at least something gets me to crack a smile: the signs at JAM Paper & Envelope’s store on Fifth Avenue at 43rd Street. Owner Michael Jacobs posts his handwritten missives—part advertisement, part stream-of-consciousness conversation with the pedestrians—whenever JAM has a sale. Jacobs says he bases them on things happening in New York—the recession and the Giants have been recent topics.

Jacobs has been making his poster-board proclamations since he opened the first JAM store on Sixth Avenue 20 years ago. But even though JAM is a close-knit family operation (the store’s name is derived from the initials of Jacobs’ wife, Janet, his son, Andrew, and himself), not all of the Jacobses appreciate Michael’s style of marketing: “My wife thinks I’m nuts, and my son agrees with her. But I think you need a little humor in life.” Andrew, now the company’s vice president, describes his feelings toward the signs bluntly. “I hate them,” he says, with a laugh. “They’re embarrassing and unprofessional. But he says it adds a personal touch.”

Late last year Andrew’s wishes for a more professional computer-printed style prevailed. “But now?” says Michael, “I’m going back to work!”—Margaret Rose

JAM Paper (Various locations throughout the city; go to for more info)