Commercial Printers Look Back, and Forward, As Another Firm Closes
by DAN HAAR
May 28, 2013
Lebon Press, a Hartford commercial printer since 1924, is closing, another casualty of the decline of the printing industry in a tough economy.
Lebon’s third-generation owner, Andy Lerner, delivered the news late last week the Homestead Avenue company’s roughly 20 employees, according to people familiar with the company. “I regret to inform you that as of Friday the 24th of May, Lebon Press was closed,” employee Joe Waggoner said on his outgoing voice mail.
There were still some employees there Tuesday. I couldn’t reach Lerner, but the news is part of a sad pattern marking the decline — but not the death — of commercial printing in greater Hartford. Midsize companies such as Sweet Waverly of Portland, which also had Hartford roots and closed in 2005, are squeezed between large firms that control the Fortune 1000 corporate work, and tiny shops that don’t have much overhead.
One of the Lerners talked with Hartford competitor Pyne-Davidson Commercial Printers about a possible merger that might have saved some jobs, said Dan Davidson, president of Pyne-Davidson on Weston Street. “But we were not interested,” Davidson said.
“It’s a tough go like most things in this economy but we think we’ve been smart and done what needs to be done to stay in business,” Davidson said. “We haven’t overextended ourselves.”
Davidson, whose firm has 24 employees and started in 1930, reeled off the names of Hartford area printers that have closed shop or merged recently, including Finlay Printing, Wolf ColorPrint and Creative Graphic.
This is an industry struggling with all sorts of forces, from technology to reading habits. But Davidson is optimistic, remarkably.
“Marketers know,” he said, “that you’ve got to keep top of mind. And the way to keep top of mind is to have something printed on your side table…It’s never going to die totally but the pie is shrinking.”
Lebon was founded by Sam Lebon 89 years ago “with little money and no credit,” but survived the Great Depression, according to a history on the company’s web site.
“All along, the relentless efforts of this entrepreneur paved the way for steady, conservative, and controlled growth through such lean times. With continuous investments in “modern technology” with linotype and other typesetting machinery, the focus concentrated on copy and layout services.”
Robert Lerner, his son-in-law, joined the company in 1958 and Andy Lerner joined in 1984. The history includes technology upgrades, the last one in 2004: “a 6-color 40-inch Heidelberg Speedmaster with Aqueous coating and perfecting features.”
“There was a lot of work around this area,” Davidson said, “and there were a lot of printers.”
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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