Couple keeps print shop successful by staying flexible

Couple keeps print shop successful by staying flexible

WARREN — A mix of the old and of the new — from a turn of the century letter press to a new digital press — is what Hal Mar Printing employs to stay relevant and meet customer needs.

In addition to the early 1900s press that embosses, die cuts, perforates and scores, there are other vintage-type machines, including one that can do multiple folds for brochures, another that rounds corners and punches holes, and another that collates and stitches.

All are tools of the printer’s trade and all are machines that enable Doreen Romack and her husband, Victor, to keep the work in-house in the 2,500-square-foot print shop.

“It helps us control the timing of jobs and get our stuff turned around a little quicker to our customers than some places because we are not always having to send everything out for finishing or special processes. A lot of it, we do right here,” Doreen said.

The business on Warren’s northend on North Street NW, in the former Halsey Taylor drinking water fountain production facility, marks its 45th year of operation this year. It’s the 29th year for Doreen as owner and her 33rd year working there.

The landscape has changed in the more than three decades Doreen, Hal Mar’s president, has worked for the company.

“When I first started working here in 1986, our three biggest customers were General Motors Lordstown, Second National Bank and First Federal. Well guess what, not long after I took over in ’90, Second National was bought out, First Federal was bought out and GM Lordstown, back in late ’91, starting going to regional buying where everything came out of Detroit for the region. They would print massive and then ship it all over,” Doreen said.

The local vendors were pushed aside, forcing her to rethink and diversify to rely less on two, three or four large customers.

The Romacks, natives of Champion, had two young children in school involved in extracurricular activities so schools were a natural fit because the couple already had relationships with teachers, administrators and other school officials.

Now, they do print work in some form for almost every school in Trumbull County. For example, they’re now preparing commencement programs for Howland Local Schools and other districts. Hal Mar had printed a lot of the forms the districts used, but not so much anymore, but still the shop prints student handbooks for a lot of the districts.

In addition, they print the programs for the local dance school recitals, forms and various tags for local manufacturing companies like Novelis and Flex Strut and recently put together a one-year anniversary book for Modern Methods Brewing Company in downtown Warren.

The Romacks stay successful “by staying flexible,” Doreen said.

“I won’t say we’re on the cutting edge of technology, but trying to keep up with it. We could have stayed all offset printing and not gotten into the digital world, but it would have really limited the types of jobs we could do because more and more, people are doing their own in-house black and white stuff. Everybody now wants color, color, color, color, color and with the digital evolution, it has made color so much more affordable,” Doreen said.

But there’s a feeling the craft of printing is gone.

Gone are the metal printing plates in favor of synthetic plates made from paper. Also gone is the dark room. It still exists at Hal Mar, but hasn’t been used in years. Also, a lot of other printer shops have gone full digital.

“Since we started in it, the industry has changed a ton. It’s kind of sad, it used to be a craft or a trade,” Doreen said.

Hal Mar Printing was Harold “Hal” and Margaret Coon, both of whom are deceased. Doreen started at the company in 1986 after returning home from Texas with Victor for the Fourth of July that year. They were home for a few days and decided to stay.

Doreen came to Hal Mar through a relationship her mother had with Margaret’s homebound mother; she sat with the homebound woman and mentioned Doreen to Margaret, who suggested she come in to see if Doreen could be used in the print shop.

“That’s how that started. He hired me that day,” Doreen said. “I didn’t have a lot of experience, the only thing I really knew how to do at the time was paste-up, which we don’t even do that anymore.”

Paste-up is what Doreen learned in college in Denton, Texas, while working on her school’s college newspaper. She was in college studying print journalism. Paste-up is preparing a document for printing by pasting its parts to a backing.