Archive for Thursday, September 1, 2005

Pressing On

Having outgrown its space in Eudora, Blue Collar Press prepares to depart

September 1, 2005

It's hard to imagine Blue Collar Press ever had space. The sprawling music merchandise distribution center teems with computers, aisles of T-shirts and a pantheon of action figures.

With their merchandise neatly stacked on a series of shelves and the general chaos of the main floor--which encompasses everything from a Marshall half stack guitar amplifier to a fully set up photo studio-- it might seem the company already has one foot out the door.

"I'm excited we're going to get a design office instead of this big open space," art director Micah Smith said.

Give it a few weeks, but Blue Collar's need to grow will lead to another empty storefront on Main Street. The company is planning an Oct. 1 move to 1100 East 11th St. in Lawrence.

The move will be the next stage for the company originally won over by Eudora, but now preparing to head elsewhere.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Burton Parker, one of the owners, snapped a quick digital photo of a red lunch bag draped across a desk. The bag, from their screen-printing presses housed downstairs, is one example of what they offer clients that range from national recording artists to locals like DC Custom Bike Shop.

Several minutes later Sean Ingram, another owner, launched a buzzing yellow "UFO," bought at a nearby discount store. It whizzed through the air as he finished a phone call.

"We chose Eudora because it was the most affordable place close to Lawrence," Ingram said. "Lawrence was unaffordable."

The company arrived to town several years ago brought in by Parker, Ingram, Ryan Pope, Robbie Pope and Matt Pryor. The Pope brothers and Pryor are members of the globally touring band The Get Up Kids.

They are also owners of the Black Lodge recording studio.

The printing company moved into its current location after it rapidly outgrew both a room at Black Lodge and a friend's house. The partners found success, breaking what they called the "736 curse."

"We've broken the curse of opening a furniture store and going out of business in this retail spot," Ingram said.

Employee Meghan Bainum, who creates buttons for Blue Collar clients among other tasks, recalled riding mini-motorcycles on the top floor when there was still ample space. But those pastimes ended as the company became more established. The distribution center expanded as the partners added contracts from national acts and refined their in-house development structure. They added presses downstairs and filled out the top floor.

But growth had a price, and the clutter of the top floor added to the heat and noise of the downstairs press spurred the owners to look elsewhere.

Their first inclination was to grow out in Eudora.

IF YA GOTTA GO...

That inclination was abandoned with a lack of local support.

"The people you think would help a business showed us no love," Ingram said.

They had looked at various pieces of land in Eudora wanting to keep the business local. They checked out land near Intech Business Park, but it became a struggle to work with the realtors, Ingram said.

"When we saw the prices of the land, it might as well be California," Ingram said. "The price of land out there is absurd, but not more absurd than Lawrence."

Then given the price of land, the decision to move became clearer. Blue Collar made preparations to press on into Lawrence. It made sense to them, Ingram said, if Eudora was the same price as Lawrence and the bulk of their customers were in Lawrence.

Still, Blue Collar might have stayed if they were treated more seriously in Eudora, Ingram said. There was a difference between the way they were approached in Lawrence and how they were treated in Eudora.

"(Lawrence) treated us seriously," Ingram said.

Despite the lack of forthcoming realtors, the owners aren't completely embittered with Eudora, Ingram said.

"We love Eudora," Ingram said.

They're going to miss getting pizza at Gambino's or visiting Pyle's Meat Company Ingram said.

"Raddest company ever," Ingram said. "We're going to miss trading T-shirts for beef jerky."

Eudora could draw real business in if it got everything together, Ingram said.

STOPPED, THE PRESS

Now, with the decision made, the owners and employees prepare for what could be one epic haul.

First, they'll have to deal with the presses.

"We're going to rip out the back and we're going to have to do something drastic to get it out of here," Ingram said.

After that, it's up to the piano movers.

"Somebody who's insured," Ingram said. "Somebody with big muscles or forklifts or something."

The move has the Blue Collar crew looking toward the future.

"It's scary because it's a really big step," Parker said. "It's just as scary to imagine trying to grow here in this building."

There'll be other advantages to the move.

"So many people live in Lawrence and can walk to work now," Parker said.

For Bainum, the impending move might make Blue Collar seem normal by context.

"It's kind of fun to bring a little bit of the alternative taste to Eudora. Everyone knows us," Bainum said. "It won't be as unique in Lawrence, but we're still Blue Collar and I think we'll take Lawrence by storm."

With one month to go and a new office waiting, Blue Collar Press in Eudora will soon be a piece of history.

"We do like the town, but business first, man," Ingram said.

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