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Quickprint closes after 72 years, presses roll elsewhere

A mini museum of sorts rests in the back room of Quickprint Inc. Letterpress machines and drawers full of linotype share the space with an offset press, IBM Selectric Composer and color copy machine. There are machines for paper cutting, binding,...

Quickprint
Production Manager Kathy Halvorson cleans the rollers on an offset printing press last week at Quickprint Inc. in Superior. The print shop, which has been in Kermit Thomas' family for 72 years, will close its doors Feb. 15. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
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A mini museum of sorts rests in the back room of Quickprint Inc.

Letterpress machines and drawers full of linotype share the space with an offset press, IBM Selectric Composer and color copy machine. There are machines for paper cutting, binding, collating and perforating. A walk through the space at 1908 Tower Ave. is a trip through printing history.

After more than 72 years serving the Twin Ports, the Superior store will close its doors Feb. 15. Retirement looms on the horizon for 85-year-old Kermit Thomas, who owns the business with his wife Ruby. His father, Clyde, bought into the business in 1940 when Thomas was a teen. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Thomas returned to Superior and started working at Quickprint. Offset type -- in which the inked image is transferred from a plastic plate to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface -- was the newest technology. He worked at the business full time while earning a bachelor's degree in economics at Superior State University, now the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

The shop has moved a few times -- from North 12th Street to 1608 Tower Ave. to its current site built in 1968. But the focus has remained the same.

"You take care of your customers," Thomas said. "I've always lived by that philosophy."

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And it worked, said George Austreng, who moonlighted at the business in the 1950s.

"I think the customers all realize he's a gentleman; honest," Austreng said.

Every day brought a different print job while Thomas was working in the pressroom. But he found the people were the best part of the business. Customers still drop by to enjoy the banter between the 85-year-old and production manager Kathy Halvorson, who is still the new girl after 14 years at Quickprint. Some bring baked goods or stories to share.

"Many thanks to the people that stayed with us through the years," Thomas said.

Customers aren't the only loyal ones. Retired employees stop by Quickprint every Friday at 10 a.m. for coffee together. Don Larson spent 45 years working for the business. The IBM Selectric was his specialty. He typed out Maple School District newsletters and other items on the composer for years. With no internal memory, he had to be careful not to turn the machine off until the plates were printed.

"I enjoyed it, I really did," Larson said.

Last week, he helped clean out boxes and drawers with Ruby Thomas and Austreng.

"I'm surprised how much is laying around here," Larson said.

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The building, which comes with a rear parking lot, has been listed with RE/MAX 1. After Feb. 15, many decades worth of items and pictures -- including an autographed photo of Dolly Parton -- will be boxed up and gone. Then the biggest question will be where the close-knit printing family will meet for their Friday coffee.

Those who know Thomas say the long-time printer has a dry sense of humor and a quick wit.

"He's been a good friend and a great competitor," said Greg Peterson, owner of Silver-Tonsberg Printing in Superior. The print shops are two blocks apart, but they had a very congenial relationship. If one was low on paper or ink, the other would help out. As he prepares to close the shop, Thomas is encouraging his customers to take their print jobs to Peterson.

"They won't all go to Silver-Tonsberg," he said. "But we know they'll handle the customers the way we want."

He hopes to direct people in need of copies to Goin' Postal at 816 Tower Ave.

"But not until after Feb. 15," Thomas said.

While the printer may be retiring, many of the historical pieces from the back room will keep working.

"It's beautiful machinery, beautifully maintained," said Rick Allen, a printer with the Kenspeckle Letterpress, an art printing shop in Duluth. The business is purchasing the auto-feed letterpress and many drawers full of type from Quickprint. Like draft horses, the machines are built to last as long as people care for them, Allen said. They're bulky and the process they represent is slow, old-fashioned. But the pieces are irreplaceable.

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"Once these things sort of disappear, they're gone," Allen said.

Knowing the presses and type will keep turning out projects was a relief to Thomas, who didn't want to see them gathering dust in a museum or melted down for fishing hooks.

"That's a tribute to Kermit," Allen said.

Related Topics: FAMILY
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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