In January, the announced sale of the Palmer Printing plant at 739 S. Clark Street made official what has long felt like an inevitability: there are no more printers in Printer’s Row.
Once one of the nation’s liveliest printing hubs, the Printer’s Row neighborhood hasn’t lived up to its name for decades. Following the exodus of industry giants like R.R. Donnelly, Palmer Printing stubbornly hung on as the Row’s lone survivor, weathering economic downturns and adapting to changing customer demands.
But after receiving an offer apparently too good to refuse for the plant’s prime piece of real estate, ownership finally cashed out on Clark Street.
“Chicago has, from what I can tell, the greatest concentration of independent printers,” said Jenny Beorkrem, owner of Ork Posters, a company she founded a decade ago when sales of her typographic map of Chicago’s neighborhoods exploded.
And of those indies, a sizable number, including Ork, have made their home along Ravenswood Avenue.
Revival of the fittest
Up and down the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor, scrappy letterpress operators and screen printers are carving out an analog niche in the digital world, setting type with their fingers instead of keystrokes and cranking out greeting cards and prints one piece of paper at a time by hand—kind of like swapping out an iPhone for a rotary model.
Just two decades ago, letterpress was considered so outmoded that idled, made-in-Chicago Vandercook presses, which now sell for $10,000 to $15,000, were being outright junked.
Then along came Martha Stewart. The highly influential domestic doyenne of the 1990s is largely credited with reviving letterpress. Her promotion of arts and crafts and all things handmade spawned a new generation of printers.