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Print shops started newspapers

By Staff | May 4, 2012

Visiting with Tom Bartley at Bartley Printing this past week brought back a flood of personal memories.

Memories of print shops past. Thoughts of printing shops no longer in existence.

You see, I have purchased and shut down at least five printing shops in my life.

Now, before you think I am some sort of monster corporate raider that buys up companies, guts them and then closes them down, let me explain that is not totally true.

In all of the cases, I was interested in buying the newspaper in a small town, and the print shop just was part of the newspaper operation.

In some of the five cases, we attempted to continue the print shop operation for a while by running the presses ourselves.

That was not always feasible. Just finding trained press operators in most smaller towns is not possible. (That Bartley Printing was able to do it with just three pressman over their 54 years of existence is nothing short of amazing.)

In most cases, we continued to operate the printing company, still offering things such as envelopes, business cards and flyers to our customers. But, the actual printing was done at a central printing plant, not in house.

It was the way of the world at that time which was completely opposite of the way of the world in the past.

In the olden days, newspapers were a side business of print shops.

In fact, most newspapers were first established and then published by printers, not journalists.

The owner of the press moved into a town and set up shop, offering to print posters and letterheads and oh, yes, by the way, he also was going to publish a newspaper.

The first newspaper I owned was a prime example of that type of operation.

Located in Enderlin, N.D., it was still being printed in 1973 by the letterpress method on 100-year-old equipment in a printing shop that more resembled a foundry than a newspaper office.

The editor/publisher kept busy all week printing raffle tickets, store flyers, posters and envelopes. Then one day a week he put the paper together with whatever news had come in the door, and printed it on an ancient massive press in the back room.

The editor attended the city council meetings and wrote a story about it, but not much else, including not running many photos. There were brief items about the town, sports and social events.

In the 1970s that standard operation was changing. Newspapers were being printed in central plants by the offset printing method and started using early types of computerized typesetting equipment.

That enabled them to run more pictures, have better, cleaner layout and design, and much nicer looking ads, headlines and style.

Instead of a print shop that also produced a newspaper, we became a newspaper office that also offered printing. Neither of which was actually printed on a press located on the premises.

Although, I do remember one woman who came into our newspaper office and often commented, “I love to come in here and smell the ink from the presses in back what a great aroma.”

I hated to tell her there were no presses in the back shop. In fact, there was no back shop.

I often wondered what it was she was smelling.

Going into Bartley Printing, I knew what that woman meant, however.

I could, indeed, smell the ink from the back shop, and it always brought back some memories of the past printing shops I owned, operated and shut down.

I always thought of Bartley Printing as being somewhat unique, in the fact that it was a small-town print shop with no connection to a newspaper in its past.

Turns out I was only slightly correct.

While it doesn’t have a newspaper to trace its roots to, founder Burnett Bartley did start the Town Crier Shopper, just as thousands of other printers had done opening up a print shop and then also starting a newspaper.

And, now, like so many of those others, the newspaper (or in this case, the shopper) is still surviving while the printing shop is not.

We wish Tom Bartley the best in the future, and we are sure the community thanks him and his father for their 54 years of providing printing service to their customers.