From the Bee archives: 124-year-old Sleeper’s to close

The Sleeper Stamp and Stationery Company store contained 20,000 square feet of floor area. At the corner of 27th and J streets.
The Sleeper Stamp and Stationery Company store contained 20,000 square feet of floor area. At the corner of 27th and J streets. The Sacramento Bee

Editor’s note: The Bee originally published this story on June 15, 1994. We have republished it online to give readers background information on a historic Sacramento retailer that will be memorialized in the Golden 1 Center. The Sleeper building now houses office space and the Vapor Spot, which sells electronic cigarette products and has a vapor bar.

The Sleeper Stamp & Stationery Co., a midtown Sacramento firm that can trace its roots back to the first generation of Californians, will close its doors for good on July 30, 1994.

Douglas A. Sleeper, the 62-year-old president of the 124-year-old business at 2700 J St., said he will “probably go fishing” on July 31, but quickly added: “It’s been a heart-rending process, I’ll tell you. It’s been a tough decision for me, for my wife and for my dad.”

Sleeper said the decision to close was made just recently, and was the result of a combination of factors.

“This particular industry has drastically changed in the last five years, and that, coupled with a desire for retirement, made this very hard decision to end the family’s mark in the business community somewhat easier, “ he said.

Sleeper explained that his business – like other independently run operations in downtown Sacramento – had changed and become more demanding with the growing popularity of discount warehouses and superstores.

Sleeper Stamp & Stationery is the latest in a series of downtown institutions to call it quits. Sixty-four-year-old Simms Hardware Co. and 83-year-old Newbert Hardware are among those that have closed in the last half-dozen years.

Financially, Sleeper said his business has been “touch-and-go in recent years.” He said, however, that the decision to close was made easier by the fact that “there are no more Sleepers, so it’s not like there’s a 40-year-old waiting in the wings to take over the business.”

Sleeper said his father, Henry A. Sleeper, still keeps a regular five-days-a-week schedule at the business “and he’s pushing 90.

“He comes in every morning before I do and goes into the shop. If there’s work to be done, he puts on an apron and does it.”

Henry Sleeper, a 1927 Stanford University graduate who still holds the title of the company’s chairman of the board, ran Sleeper Stamp & Stationery from 1927 to 1963. As per usual on Monday, he was working away and demonstrated a razor-sharp memory of the company’s storied history.

The business was founded in 1870 by Frank H. Wing, who ran the shop out of the old Western Hotel at 1st and K streets. Henry E. Sleeper, father of Henry A. Sleeper and grandfather of Douglas Sleeper, acquired Wing’s business in 1899 and saw the company through a series of expansions and openings of branch offices.

During that time, Sleeper Stamp & Stationery did business with local customers both small and large.

The company regularly reproduced the state seal for California government clients and filled orders for what was then the Weinstock & Lubin Co.

In 1963, the company consolidated four sites into its current office at 2700 J. The building contains 20,000 square feet of floor space.

Douglas Sleeper succeeded his father as company president in 1964, becoming the third generation of his family to run the firm and the fourth generation of Sleepers to do business in California. Douglas Sleeper’s great grandfather, Manasseh Sleeper, came to California in the midst of the 1849 Gold Rush and opened a mercantile business in Yreka.

Today, Douglas Sleeper said that one of the primary memories he will carry into retirement will be “the whole process of watching Sacramento grow and develop into a city. It’s been interesting. . . . I can remember riding the old streetcars in Sacramento as a kid.”

And he said he is grateful for one other thing: “I’m happy that this has been a nice business and has provided a nice income for three generations and hundreds of employees over the years. That gives me a feeling of satisfaction.”

Sleeper said the company plans to begin a final sale of remaining merchandise on July 16.

As for the building at 2700 J, he said “we have been looking for a quality tenant who will sign a long-term lease. Or we might sell it. We’ll have to see what happens.”

And as the decades-old company counts its last days, Henry A. Sleeper joked, “I’ll probably end up as I started - a boy sweeping out the shop.”

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover