On a hot, steamy afternoon, just days before the official first day of summer, the last thing most people are thinking about is stepping inside a print shop. Let’s face it, if you know anything about printing, you know they can be hot, smelly places. Yet, despite the heat, I found myself headed to Old City Press and Co. The letterpress printing company is just one of many small businesses in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. These boutiques and businesses give Alexandria an intimate, small-town feel. It’s one of the many reasons we love living here.
I was on my way there to watch how this classic printing company makes the beautiful invitations and posters displayed on walls and shelves around the shop, and just about anything you else you want printed. The door was propped open with a sign stating, “Open by appointment only.” Lucky me, I had an appointment of sorts…I was meeting friends who are getting married in October and had decided Old City Press and Co. was the right place to meet all their wedding printing needs.
The bride (who asked me not to reveal her name) was already there, chatting with head designer, Elena. She was looking over a test run of her wedding invitations and trying to decide if the red was too “red.” Elena was patiently cleaning off the rollers on the mid-century letterpress machine to try a slightly darker red. That’s the beauty of a custom shop; you can tweak colors and fonts and every other detail of whatever you’re getting printed. The groom was trying to figure out why the shade of red mattered.
Once the rollers were cleaned, Elena had the bride and groom (and me) come over so she could demonstrate how the ink is applied to the machine and how the printing process works. It seemed pretty straight forward. There were lots of questions and clear, easy-to-understand answers. Then, with a turn of the crank … another sample invitation. The bride was thrilled. “It’s perfect!” she beamed. Her groom compared the two and seemed to be a little clearer on the nuances of the reds, but was happy his bride was there making that final decision.
Elena asked the happy couple if they wanted to try their hand at printing an invitation. “Of course,” was the quick and excited response. After loading in a sheet of card stock, our bride grabbed the crank and started to turn … getting a little stuck and grimacing as she pushed the crank past the spot in the turn that takes a little extra muscle, then smiled brightly as her finished product popped off the roller – a perfect print! She marveled at Elena’s apparent strength, asking if it was exhausting printing each page by hand crank.
After a few more questions, and a chance for the groom to give the crank a turn, I browsed the shop with the couple, asking about options and what helped them choose Old City Press and Co. They pointed out the fun they had just had and the personalized attention they’d received from Elena and other staff members, who were always cheerful and professional. We touched on the cost. “Was it a lot more than other options?” I asked.
Having just been married in December, I had gone through the process of seeking out a printer. My husband and I had opted to go with a less formal invitation and cut costs on the printing. This couple was looking for formal and special. They knew their choice of a more classic style also meant more money, but insisted this was more affordable than they thought it would be. They consulted with Elena again on envelope printing options, envelope liners, and a few other details. Elena let them know their final product would be ready for pick-up in time to meet their mailing deadline.
All-in-all the visit took about an hour. The wedding couple left with actual copies of their wedding invitations and huge smiles on their faces, chatting merrily about the personal touch and attention they’d received.