The Last True Sticker Factory in America
As sparkles and unicorns go digital, a legendary California business is holding on
In 1983, there were few pop cultural forces stronger than the original Star Wars trilogy — and Ira Friedman had front-row seats. As the manager of Lucasfilm’s official Star Wars fan club, Friedman was in contact with hundreds of thousands of die-hard obsessives.
But a chance visit to a New York gift show that year introduced Friedman to a feverish subculture that could rival fans’ obsessions with that galaxy far, far away: stickers. “There were a number of companies promoting all kinds of stickers and there was this groundswell — particularly kids — getting into the whole hobby of collecting and trading,” says Friedman, now the vice president of licensing and publishing at baseball juggernaut Topps.
Within months, he was the proud founder and publisher of Stickers Magazine, a quarterly for “kids stuck on stickers.” On the cover of the first issue, a pair of widely grinning, wind-in-their-hair preteens rode a gigantic sticker album like a magic carpet.
The universal appeal of stickers — inexpensive, endlessly expressive, and unfailingly easy to use — made them a certifiable phenomenon in the 1980s. In 1984 People magazine declared that “America Is Getting Stuck Up,” with estimated industry-wide sales of a “billion stick-ons priced at five cents to $5” totaling “as much as $500 million” spent on these itty bitty treasures. Over the next few years, companies filled the market with innovative takes on the format: Hambly and their shiny mylar assortments, 3D Star Brights, fuzzies from Sandy Lion, hypercolor Mystiks, Trend’s scratch-and-sniff Stinkies, Lisa Frank and her acid trip fantasias, and Mrs. Grossman’s simple, singular silhouettes. There were meet-ups hosted by local sticker-stocking shops; regular recess, lunchtime, and after-school exchanges; and a growing network of sticker swapper pen pals mailing favorites back and forth across the world.
But fads aren’t forever and by the end of the ’80s, the collect-and-trade sticker craze had all but gone…