My wife can confirm that I hate shopping for just about anything other than books or pens.

A few years ago during a trip up the Oregon coast, we went 20 miles out of our way to visit a store that sold high-end pens. My stomach sank when I saw price tags in the thousands of dollars for instruments carved from fossils and other exotic substances. But I did manage to find a $35 selection that converts from roller ball to felt tip to fountain pen.

I always thought my pen affliction was bit unusual, but after talking with Rob Beers, owner of Quill & Nib in Valley Junction, it seems that I’m not that different from a lot of pen lovers.

Beers and I first met 10 years ago when he asked if I’d write about Quill & Nib, a kiosk he’d just opened at Valley West Mall to sell his own hand-turned pens. I wrote that Beers, a woodworker, had begun making wooden pens on a lathe in his home workshop and had learned how to make pen barrels out of everything from buffalo horns to pulverized stone to acrylics and even a roll of snakeskin. 

His original kiosk carried a few higher-end, brand-name pens and was the only pure pen store I’d ever found in Iowa. 

At the beginning, Beers figured he’d sell off his handmade inventory and be out of business in six months. But a couple of months later, he moved to a larger kiosk and then into a mall storefront.  

In 2013, he moved again to a store at 130 Fifth St. in West Des Moines. It took a while for customers to find him in Valley Junction, but now sales are as good as or better than they were at the mall, and the overhead is much lower. 

Although Beers started his business in 2006, a year before the recession, the economic downturn did not bother him. “I’ve found this business is extremely steady,” he said, even a bit countercyclical. 

“When I was in the mall and they’d have special sales, my business would just tank,” Beers said. His first Thanksgiving weekend was a disaster. “But the next week, I was selling everything,” he said, when browsers returned to make purchases.

“I do a tremendous amount of repeat business,” Beers explained. 

He also makes custom writing instruments for large corporations to distribute as employee rewards or as presentation pieces for clients. 

One year, Hy-Vee ordered 635 acrylic roller ball pens with the Hy-Vee logo and magnetic caps as employee gifts. It was a huge order for a man who normally produces about 200 handmade pens a year. 

Beers’ handmade pens sell for between $60 and $500, but Quill & Nib also carries 20 to 30 other brand-name pens that sell for as little as $2 and as much as $3,000.

At the high end is a “Declaration of Independence” fountain pen by Visconti, a luxury pen and watchmaker based in Florence, Italy. The entire declaration is inscribed on the barrel of the pen, which comes in a presentation case with a miniature paper copy of the declaration and a magnifying glass. 

Beers’ inventory includes a Visconti retractable fountain pen for $1,900 and popular Retro 51 pens and mechanical pencils that begin at $25. 

The store carries a variety of high-end paper, including Ogami, a super-strength paper made of limestone and resin, which is great for pencil and ballpoint pens, but is slow to absorb roller ball or fountain pen ink.

And he’s paired pens and paper to create gift sets that make holiday shopping enjoyable for pen nuts like me.