By Rhonda Dredge
From the outside, Print City in Flinders Lane looks a bit like a dungeon and during the lockdown it has often been occupied by a lone worker, eerily condemned to a life of toil underground.
The Gothic setting does not worry manager Mason Thomas who is on the morning shift.
He began his working life as a reporter and has written chapter one of a spy novel.
During the pandemic there’s been more time for writing but the business side of Print City has grown to dominate Mason’s outlook.
There’s JobKeeper to look after Mason’s staff, whom he wants to keep on. There are small business grants from the state government and a code of conduct for managing rental repayments.
It’s a wonder he has any time for print jobs, what with the way every one of us has become an economic unit in the fight to save the working culture of the city.
Mason is not complaining. He’s seeing the pluses rather than the minuses. “We’re lucky because we’re on a four-year lease,” he told CBD News, “so we’ll have time to pay back rent.”
He said they’d paid $2000 instead of $14,500 and turnover was down by 85 per cent, but other businesses in this little patch of Flinders Lane have closed. “The future is very unknown,” he said.
There have been some new products to keep them going and even some work from overseas that has tapped into their connections with designers and created new opportunities.
Lockdown Lager labels lie on the table, having just been printed for a new two litre stubby, twice as big as the original, to be released by a brewery in the country. New vinyl materials were ordered for the job.
Materials are changing in the print industry as well as processes. There’s a great two-colour Heidelberg press by the window. Offset used to make up 95 per cent of the business but the machine has been operated just five days in the past six months by a press man from the outer suburbs. Another press man changed occupations and became a bus driver just before the pandemic.
The rest of the business is now digital and it has been evolving. While the old-world imagery of the print shop still lives on, Mason’s not wearing a leather apron nor moving around pieces of lead. In fact, he doesn’t expect employees to wear uniforms like they do in other franchises.
If he has any beef at all, it is about the way work is marked up. “If only people would give me trim marks with a three millimetre bleed so they don’t end up with a white line,” he said.
Generally, he just fixes the problem. Gone are the days when printers ruled the publication process and launches of expensive reports had to be postponed because of some demarcation disputes over what “print ready” really means.
“Fifty per cent of our files aren’t print ready at all. It used to frustrate me when I started. Now I see this as a challenge. I turn around and fix the problem and worry about payment later.”
In the 24 years Mason has been with the family business, he claims to have rarely lost a client. Corporate reports, restaurant menus and flyers, cocktail lists for bars and, more recently, takeaway menus are their main trade.
Print City was started by Mason’s dad in 1972 and after an “aimless” start as a reporter for Leader local newspapers in Cheltenham, Mason moved into print.
“I got sick of reporting on 10th anniversaries and birthdays,” he said of the paper. “I hated council meetings.” Now he’s printing up and folding wedding invitations, albeit for an event in Malaysia. That’s print for you – evidence that something is happening somewhere •