Owner Mariloly (Loly) OrozcoLittle Postage House, 500 Arthur Street, Knoxville, November 2022
In a relatively non-descript building just across the Interstate from downtown at 500 Arthur Street, Little Postage House has taken up residence. The space inside provides owner Mariloly (Loly) Orozco with her first functional studio after building her business first from her apartment in New York City, and then from her garage in Knoxville. With the space added to the momentum she’s already built, the future for the business looks bright. And it’s a unique business.
Loly was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, where she lived until she was seventeen years old. Her mother was born in Costa Rica and came to the states when she was nineteen, following her new husband. Her father is Cuban, and he left Cuba as an exile and moved to Costa Rica, where they met. Upon graduation from high school, Loly attended the University of South Florida in Tampa.
From a young age she was often in the position of advocate for family members, translating for them as they navigated various systems. She thinks that’s why she decided very early to become an attorney. “I pursued the law in a very blind way. All the extracurriculars I would take were art related . . . I love to paint, I love music, I was in the band, I play violin, drums, the guitar . . . I was pursuing an occupation that really wasn’t the right fit.” She said art simply didn’t seem like a viable, economic career path.
She majored in political science and criminology, was accepted into Cornell Law School, and moved to Ithaca, New York. “It was the first time I had been somewhere so cold. I didn’t have a coat and I didn’t know what layering was.”
She said it was a challenging, but small law school, with about 200 students in her class. Despite all the challenges, she enjoyed it. “The law takes all of you. It starts even before you get admitted.” She said there was a curve that only allowed for one or two A’s in a class and it was very competitive, but she found a supportive group. Still, she began realizing she was very different from the others in her interests and strengths.
It was there she met her future husband, Michael Casas, who was a second-year student, on the first day of law school. She crashed her car into a ditch on the way to a student event. He happened to be in the car behind her and helped her out of the ditch. They were going to the same party and out of embarrassment, she avoided him the rest of the night. Coincidentally, he was also from south Florida, was Cuban-American, and they had grown up an hour-and-a-half apart, only to meet on a road in northern New York. The relationship survived the first-night crash.
Upon graduation, in 2013, and after passing the bar she joined a New York City law firm. She liked litigation as well as corporate law and pursued both, doing corporate restructuring. As part of that she represented creditor groups in the bankruptcies of both Caesar’s Casino and Brookstone. She also worked pro bono with women who had been trafficked, helping them get VISA’s and obtain legal status. “I wanted to do something to give back.”
After two years, she was offered a clerkship in the southern district in the state of New York. It was an honor she readily accepted, as that district often handles cases with no precedent, meaning she could participate in writing case law. Her judge had her listen to the cases and write the decisions — and then he would tell her if it was right or wrong. She said they probably rendered “fifty to seventy decisions that year,” and it was a great learning experience.
In addition to learning more about the law, she also learned more about herself during the clerkship. She realized that she didn’t want to work the hours of a corporate lawyer the rest of her life. “On a good day at the firm, you went home at 9:00 pm. On a bad day you didn’t go home.” With the federal judge, they worked hard and typically went home at 6:00 pm. “Once you step off the hamster wheel, you really see how much it takes from you.”
She’d started dabbling with her art while clerking and planning her wedding. She wasn’t satisfied with her options for wedding invitations and so, visited a printing museum and fell in love with the old machinery. She wanted to learn about the process and design and worked with them to develop her invitation.
She also had a chance encounter that gave her the idea for what would become her business. She saw a bride at the post office with her invitations. “They were gorgeous, they had calligraphy, they looked like fine invitations . . . She was looking for postage and hated all the options . . . They were perfectly fine for everyday mail, but they don’t fit with old calligraphy style, fancy invitations.” She thought it was unfortunate and realized she would be facing the same issue with her invitations.
She began to research stamps in earnest. “I learned everything there was to know about postage and in doing so I discovered an entire world of vintage postage stamps.” She began collecting vintage stamps that had not been used. (She also makes use of canceled stamps by making other art projects, such as Christmas ornaments.) She uses combinations of denominations of stamps to total the amount needed to post the invitation.
She hit upon the idea not only of having cool or old stamps just to be different, but curating the postage used to tell a story. “If I have a couple who is from Virginia and another from Louisiana, they love basketball, and own a citrus farm, we will curate a collection that hits the amount of postage they need but tells their story and is meaningful.”
She did it for herself and her wedding invitations initially, but others began to request the same help. The Little Postage House was born. She also began offering stamps online, grouped by topic. During her honeymoon she heard from someone who appreciated the stamp work, but also wanted help with the invitation. While she loved the process, she’d never done it on her own. She agreed to do it at cost, just to see how it would go, and learned the process from scratch.
After clerking, she returned to the firm, but refused to let go of her vision. “It was an extension of me out in the world.” She would work at the law firm until late and then work into the night. She would work all day on the weekends. She didn’t eat on Saturdays until the post was picked up. It wasn’t sustainable.
After only nine months, the judge for whom she had clerked called and said he had a friend who was a judge and she wanted a clerk to work on a special case. She had been designated by Chief Justice Roberts to work on the case law for the bankruptcy of Puerta Rico. There were no precedents for a U.S. territory declaring bankruptcy.
This kind of clerkship was a dream for many lawyers as it could ultimately lead to a judgeship. She was excited because “every decision would be appealed and ultimately be decided by SCOTUS.” She was attracted by the challenge, but also because clerking would give her more time to grow her business, which was still a professional secret. She took the clerkship and began traveling to Puerto Rico.
She clerked for the judge for just over two years, knowing she would have to return to a firm, and that she didn’t want that. She knew she was, “holding on to a fiction that I wanted to pursue law. I’d found something that I loved more, that was truer to all my inclinations growing up.” Still, they lived in New York City, not an inexpensive place, and she would be offered a large bonus to return to her firm.
While she was struggling with the decision, her husband got a call in 2019 from a client asking if he might consider going “in house,” working for a company in Knoxville. He had an offer from Amazon to move to Seattle, but he was concerned about being from that far from family and being one of a large group of lawyers. The Knoxville offer would be at a smaller company where he would have more impact. They offered the job and he called to see if she would be willing to come to Knoxville to see the city before he decided. She said, “Absolutely not. I’m not going to visit. You need to accept right now . . . I could live anywhere! I lived in Ithaca!”
She had been in New York for nearly a decade and was ready to move someplace warmer and more affordable. She also knew it would give her the opportunity to grow her business and step away from practicing law altogether. She had a mini-press and wanted to buy larger antique presses but didn’t have the space in New York. By October 2019 she was in Knoxville operating full time with Little Postage House out of her garage.
In the first year of the business, she’d sold “five or six” total packages. It has grown every year and this year she’s on track to do fifty-four total packages, in addition to stamp-only services, and selling stamps, stationary, pencils, and ornaments through the website. She’s accumulated many thousands of stamps with all manner of values and content, including thousands of copies of each of the stamps they offer online. Some are antique, while some, such as the Ray Charles stamps, she used for his granddaughter’s invitations, are modern. Many clients use her repeatedly. They may get her to print “save the date” notifications, wedding invitations, menus for the rehearsal dinner, birth announcements, and more. They also do holiday cards.
While the pandemic was “devastating for the wedding industry,” she said she thinks it was hardest on those who provided wedding day services. For her, she continued to do well, with change-of-date notices, and new hold-the-date notices. There were, unfortunately, also notices to people saying they were no longer invited because the wedding size was slashed due to the pandemic. She said they grew during the pandemic because they could be adaptable. Additionally, since so much of her work has been initiated online, she has clients from all over the world, which provided further insulation.
She now has a large collection of antique presses and cutters she’s accumulated from New York dealers all the way to a church in Florida. She found a great antique press in Knoxville, as well. Each of them have something they bring to the business, including one that now allows her to print in large volume.
Her mother and father have since moved to Knoxville, and both help her with the business. “They came to Knoxville and really liked it. I had so much work, so my parents moved here to help with the business.” Her father helps with printing and mechanical work and her mother helps with the postage and fulfilling orders. She also has a friend who lives in Florida who answers email and initiate early conversations about what client wants. The friend’s mother, also in Florida, now helps with bookkeeping.
“My profession doesn’t define me, anymore. It’s just part of who I am . . . We knew what our life would look like if we lived in New York . . . and if I pursued work at a law firm. I had a hunch if I did this, I could spend more time with the people I care about. So, every day I talk to my best friend for hours . . . and my parents work with me. I surround myself with people I love, my dog comes to work with me, and my life is very different. It happened organically and it all started with a trip to the post office and a postage stamp.
When it came time to look for a building, she hadn’t considered buying a building at first, but her needs were very specific. She had to have large doors, garage doors being ideal, to fit her presses through. She also needed concrete floors to bear the weight of the presses, which can weigh more than a small car. She was delighted when her agent found her building near downtown, in Mechanicsville, seeing the potential immediately. She bought last summer, renovated the interior, and moved in just a few weeks ago.
She has additional space in her building which she may grow into or lease. She also bought, as part of the deal, the community garden across the street and she’s hopeful about encouraging its greater use.
You can learn more or place orders on the website, or follow the business on Instagram.