The longtime Willy Street print shop falls prey to online promotion and corporate printers.
Lakeside Printing Cooperative, which has cranked out thousands of flyers and literature for Madison shows and causes over the past 37 years, will close up at the end of 2018. The Willy Street institution’s two remaining employees, Jerry Chernow and Ralph Shively, announced the closing in a letter to customers this week.
In an era that saw corporate behemoths like FedEx Office and Staples building up cheap printing services and event promoters placing more value on social media and email newsletters than on printed material, Lakeside remained a proudly scrappy, vocally left-wing operation. The business was structured as a worker-owned cooperative, and the window of its cluttered storefront at 1334 Williamson St. was always packed with a rotation of flyers decrying, war, union-busting, capitalism, and right-wing politicians like outgoing Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Receipts for printing services always came stamped with the Industrial Workers of the World logo.
“Our losses have been consistent for some time, and we have decided to shut it down now, before our reserves are completely exhausted,” Chernow and Shively wrote.
Lakeside isn’t exactly a product of Madison’s late-1960s explosion of anti-war activism, though it evokes a bit of that legacy, alongside much older traditions of pacifism and Wobbly labor organizing. Chernow actually started the shop as the Reagan revolution was getting into full swing. “1980, ’81,at that time there was another attempt to bring back the draft…there was a group formed called CARD, committee Against Registration for the Draft, that I did a lot of printing for when I first started,” Chernow told Milwaukee public-radio station WUWM in a great audio piece from 2016. “There were also various environmental groups that were pretty active back then, and there was beginning to be a lot of work on issues around Central America, with U.S. military aggression against various countries in Central America.”
In that piece, Chernow also recalled working with feminist groups and the Dane County Rape Crisis Center, and the time he refused to print a newsletter that contained a military recruiting ad. Chernow is a labor historian, and Shively is a tireless local-music booster, often helping to organize benefit concerts for community radio station WORT.
Chernow and Shively’s letter to customers also celebrated the shop’s history of activism. “We have relished our role as more than just a neighborhood printer,” they wrote. “The epithet ‘Madison’s Alternative Printer’ doesn’t quite encompass the scope of our work as a conduit for (and sometimes a vanguard of) radical and progressive causes, and our work in solidarity with struggles both locally and around the world. We will miss the bonds we have forged with our comrades over the years, and the enduring friendships that strengthened and sustained us.”
This isn’t the only recent closure of a Madison lefty institution in one of the city’s main business districts: Rainbow Bookstore closed at the end of 2016. Both Rainbow and Lakeside fell prey to business pressures, as the neighborhoods around them rapidly redeveloped.
Most of Lakeside’s printers and copying machines are leased and will go back to a leasing company, but the shop isn’t sure what to do with a massive, unwieldy paper cutter in the back of the shop.
Paleontologist Craig Pfister owns the Willy Street building and runs his Great Plains Paleontology service from another space there.
“My immediate goal for the Lakeside Press building is to refurbish and restore the building to its original appearance and configuration,” Pfister says. “When completed I’ll have two commercial spaces available. My long term goal is to expand my business with a small gallery in one of the spaces and the other space will be available as a commercial rental.”
We’ll update this story as we hear more; reach me if you’d like to share any thoughts or information.