I haven’t spent enough time talking to strangers. In order to meet new people and get an insider’s look into Prague, I signed up for my first Airbnb experience (their more recent foray outside of lodging).

Perhaps it’s because I work with so many creative makers, am fanatical about to-do lists, and consider myself an old soul, but one session stood out from the rest — Notebooks with a Soul.

Immediately curious, I read about Václav, a designer making small batch notebooks and diaries using recycled materials out of his quaint stationary store, SKOBA. Considered a social impact company, all four of their part-time employees are retired artisans with mental or physical handicaps. These team members achieve professional status working four-hour shifts at the studio, carefully making and assembling beautiful notebooks. It’s an intentionally slow and methodical process.

SKOBA's bright blue storefront is a cheery sight, nestled in a residential neighborhood a short walk from Prague’s bustling downtown center. The four-hour workshop (held three days a week) is intentionally capped at five guests, which added to the intimacy of the setting. I was joined by travelers from Hong Kong, Mexico, and a family from Sweden. We all sat around a large red table and poured over piles of old magazines, books, and newspaper clippings to include in our custom notebooks — everything from Czech maps to pre-World War II advertisements. It felt like uncovering a time capsule buried decades ago.

After choosing images for our cover and section dividers, we went step-by-step through the cathartic process of outlining and cutting the images down to size, sanding the binding down for better adhesion, scoring the paper, and foiling and gluing our cover together. It was a detailed, labor-intensive, and slow process.

Over the course of the session, I learned more about their business and operations. Their inventory was everything we saw on the shelves, but the hope is to hire one or two more employees in order to keep the workload manageable. The longer-term goal is to redesign their website to include a version in English and a small e-commerce section, but as with any nonprofit, the big hurdle is funding. Václav is looking into crowdfunding to raise the necessary money, which prompted a question about their client database and marketing strategy (we agree it's difficult to stay on top of the latest and greatest social media trends). Data collection and privacy is at the forefront of everyone’s mind here as stricter rules for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) go into effect on May 25th, but that shouldn’t stop him from building his list of opt-in clients now. On any given week, he’s missing the opportunity to re-engage with 15+ folks who have spent quality time getting to know his business and mission. I hope he grabs one of those pretty notebooks off the shelf for people to opt-in for occasional updates.

Most patrons are local neighbors who know and love their purpose, but their inclusion in a few guidebooks and Airbnb experiences have helped put them on the radar of tourists looking for an authentic local excursion. In addition to the workshop ticket price (I was happy to learn they receive 100% of the money collected from Airbnb since they are a social enterprise), each attendee purchased multiple notebooks, which helps further fund their ongoing operations. It appears these notebook workshops are worthwhile for all parties involved. If you happen to find yourself in Prague with a free half-day to explore, I recommend a visit to see Václav and the SKOBA team.

I asked Václav why he started the company, and his simple response was, “to combine my love for art and the need to help those less fortunate.” From the interactions I witnessed with his staff, they operate as a close-knit family. I walked away with not only a journal I personally made, but a better appreciation for the craft and a soft spot in my soul for the good people behind this experience.

P.S. -- Václav introduced me to the most visually stunning guide books, 500 Hidden Secrets. Nothing listed is sponsored or applied for -- it's curated by local ambassadors recommending their favorite spots and local businesses simply get notified of their inclusion. On my way home from SKOBA, I may or may not have stopped at a recommended cafe, banh mi restaurant, and gelato shop (all were gems). Luckily, they've done research on a few of the cities later in my itinerary...

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