Crozet Print Shop dates to 1913 and is likely the oldest continuously operated business in town still in the same place, its cute workshop on Blue Ridge Avenue. Jim and Delores Baber have run the business for 36 years, now joined by their son Scott and assisted by an employee, Rob Rosadina, who has been with them since 1997.
The shop was first opened by Jack Phillips, now referred as “Uncle Jack” by the Babers, though there is no relation, in a back section of what is now The Modern Barber Shop on Crozet Avenue. Phillips cut hair with Vivian McCauley, the grandfather of current shop owner Lisa Miller, fixed radios and because there was a local demand, ran a letterpress, the sort with moveable metal type bundled in frames that were inked and pressed on paper. Phillips built the current shop in 1930. “He was a very meticulous person,” said Delores. “He could pick up any tool in the dark. Everything was carefully kept in its place.” He kept the shop going until 1955, when he was very elderly. He sold to Jesse Puckett, who ran it until he was 76, and in 1976 the Babers took it over.
“It was mainly letterpress work for Morton’s [Frozen Food],” she said. “That was seventy-five percent of their business.
“We set type and we did a lot of dry gum case labels for Morton’s. They used those in their bulk division, which supplied frozen food to schools and businesses like airlines. But having a big customer like that can also hurt you,” Delores said.
Puckett got into offset printing, the common process today. “With letterpress, the type is directly on the paper,” she explained. “Offset makes negatives of a paste-up image. You make metal plates for the press. They print to a rubber blanket and that prints the paper. The plates never touch the roller, only the blanket. In letterpress you’re dealing with a mirror-image.”
The print shop rarely uses its two letterpresses now. “It’s not cost-effective,” explained Scott.
“Our type is old and a lot of it is mashed,” added Delores. But the shop has three tall cases, called California cases, of old type, 68 drawers in all, with some fonts in good condition.
Jim brought out blocks of type set up for routine orders the plant would make when Del Monte owned it. “We could just pull it out,” he explained.
Delores has a scrap book of examples of things the shop had printed.
“We’re the only print shop in Crozet,” she said. “We do letterhead, envelopes, statements, invoices, raffle tickets, wedding invitations, magnets.”
Many of these routine forms are now offered in digital publishing software, though, and demand is down. The shop does not do photocopying and cannot make blueprints.
“We give good customer service with a family touch,” Scott added.
“We do not do any process color, though. We use spot color,” said Delores. Process color builds color shades by layering four basic colors. Spot color is a single pure color. “You get a truer color with spot color. It’s like ordinary paint. Spot color is sharp,” she said.
The shop’s main business now is based on its Flexo Press, a sophisticated machine that prints pressure-sensitive labels on a roll. The shop acquired it in 1986 and installed in what had been a garage. The press can produce labels at 500 feet per minute, but Scott runs it slower to save wear on it. Orders for it can be in the 1 million labels range, but the shop will also run orders of 1,000. An average run is 250,000. Shelves of metal dies specific to each label are racked on shelves nearby. It is also a spot color machine.
“We do a lot of bar code labels, which is not very interesting. Labels are our niche. We have customers in Tennessee, South Carolina, Canada.” They also make laminated labels for filing systems, vivid spools of brightly colored numbers or letters. She said labels amount to 75 percent of the shop’s business, but the Flexo Press does not run full time any more.
“Scott started working in the shop after he graduated from East Tennessee in ’93. He’s taken a load off our shoulders. He operates the flexo. In a shop like this we all fill in where we’re needed.”
“I’m the mechanical troubleshooter now,” said Jim, who is 73.
“We made the decision to buy on a golf course,” he recalled. “I came home and told mama, ‘We’re buying a print shop.’” He had been running a Gulf station at the corner of Crozet Avenue and Jarmans Gap Road with his brother Roger. Jim handled the gas service; Roger did repairs in what is now the Community Garage.
“We didn’t know anything at that point. Mr. Puckett stayed with us for a year and a half and taught us the business.”
Jim had been working nights in the print shop at Acme and Delores was in the finance department there before they bought the shop. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last summer. They have worked together in the shop for 39 years.
The letterpresses they used, one a Miehle Vertical and the other a Kluge, still sit in a rear section of the shop. “The Miehle was bought to do work for Acme Visible Records and a factory man came to Crozet and rebuilt it in the shop. It was our workhorse. We worked unbelievable hours. We started the presses at four in the morning and worked all day on Con Agra jobs. Those people [at the factories] wouldn’t give you any time to do the job.”
“We’re being replaced by digital machines,” acknowledged Delores. “It’s hard for a small family business to be able to keep up with big competitors.”
“We’ve had good luck with the label machine,” said Jim.
The shop is a good source for local manufacturers or food growers who need attractive labels for their products. They are making them now for Breadworks, the Hip Joint and others.