Reaching for the stars

When Sara McNally entered the job market as a newly-minted college graduate in 2009, the job climate for graphic designers like herself was far from ideal.

“I must have done 40-something interviews,” she said, “but no one was hiring junior designers.”

Seven years later, her Magnolia letterpress stationery company and gift shop — which she operates with her husband Brad — has received national recognition.

Last month, Constellation & Co. (1900 W. Nickerson St.) earned a “Best New Product” award in the “Eco Chic” category at the National Stationery Show in New York for a series of 26 A to Z signal flag postcards.

“I applied but did not expect to win,” McNally said of the award, which she compared to winning an Oscar, or a Golden Boot in soccer. “I had no concept of a world in which that would happen, so we felt really honored and just surprised to be honored in that way.”

The award comes about two years after moving to Magnolia — where the McNallys reside — and opening the storefront.

Originally, the business — which now has six part-time employees — was located in Pioneer Square in an artist studio-type space, and participated in the monthly art walk.

“That was the beginning of our fan base,” McNally said, “seeing several hundred people every month, and showing them what we were printing, and just trying to make new stuff to show that same group of people every month.”

But one night, when McNally was out to dinner with her parents at Chinook’s, they saw the vacant storefront.

It was love at first site.

“[We] saw the big sign in the window, and kind of fell in love with the spiral staircase and all the windows,” she said. “So we got more information about the space, and pretty much told them, ‘How fast can we move in?’”

And so they did, with their first weekend in business in Magnolia coinciding with the Fisherman’s Fall Festival.

“It was great to see that many people coming through here, and really get the flavor of Fishermen’s Terminal and the neighborhood.”

At the heart, McNally said, Constellation and Co. is a manufacturing business, and greeting cards are the major income stream. The company’s wholesale business has grown from just a few products in local stores like Elliott Bay Books and Paper Hammer, to 200 stores across the country and worldwide.

But beyond the card business, the shop has added other product lines.

“We’ve found that a little bit of everything makes a small business go,” she said.

McNally said anything made locally is very popular, along with unique, whimsical, and silly gifts. That ranges from tiny harmonicas, to necklaces with animals on them, to socks adorned with pizzas.

The store also hosts special events, including workshops and popup shops with other makers and community artists.

“[We’re] always trying to make it so there’s always something going on here out of the ordinary,” she said.

McNally said it’s hard to imagine the success Constellation & Co. has had to this point. While she said she always thought it was the kind of position she wanted to be in eventually, she didn’t expect to be doing it just seven years out of school.

“I’m half-pessimistic, half-absurd optimist,” she said. “There’s no middle ground, there’s either abject failure or soaring for the stars.”

As for the best part of the business? McNally said it’s the people, and how, “the words that I write about the people I love get printed by hand, and handed to people who give them to the people they love.”

She referred to the stationery business as a “relationship industry,” not only when it comes to building connections to sell wholesale, but in conveying the emotions that come with making greeting cards.

“We have hands on knowledge of how to help people share those hard words and share love in places that are dark,” she said, “so that’s the stuff that I love, is seeing what we make affect other people’s lives in a positive way.”

The fact that that mission supports the livelihood of others makes it even better.

“I think that’s the thing that feels the most out of control crazy,” she said. “I help support other people’s families with what we make, and with my dream, and that makes me just want to cry. It’s a happy feeling.”

For more information on Constellation & Co., visit