Editor's note: This is the sixth and final story in a miniseries about some of the Auburn area's oldest businesses. We've shared not only their histories and how they've evolved over the past 100 years or more, but also how they're doing under the economic stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. To see previous stories in the series, read this one on auburnpub.com.
AUBURN — If it's printed on paper, it's printed at Jacobs Press.
Some may believe that makes the 105-year-old Auburn printer less relevant as the world becomes more paperless.
But its president, David Verdi, believes otherwise. Not only is paper still relevant, Verdi said, it's the very thing that makes his job rewarding.
"We're making something for people that brings them joy or fulfills a purpose," he told The Citizen on Friday. "To a lot of people, what we're making is the most important thing that they're working on."
Verdi is the fifth generation to run the Columbus Street company, which was founded in 1915 by Harry Jacobs. It was then bought out by Victor H. Fandrich. He was succeeded by his son, Victor W. Fandrich, followed by Victor W.'s son-in-law, Michael Trapani. Then, in 2014, Trapani asked his son-in-law, Verdi, to come aboard for a year.
Previously an assistant branch manager at First Niagara, Verdi spent that year deciding whether the work was for him. The contrast between printing and banking helped him realize that it was, he said.
"We create a physical product," he said. "A physical thing you're making as opposed to just the idea of something."
In January 2019, Verdi became president of Jacobs. It prints all manner of products, from flyers and booklets to business cards and posters. Its clients number in the hundreds, mostly in the central New York region, and its staff of 13 goes through millions of sheets of paper a year. The company also provides design services to some clients, Verdi said, while others provide their own. And it prides itself on saving clients time and money, whether it's packaging and labeling product literature for manufacturers, or sending newsletters directly to the mail for nonprofits.
Verdi joined the company in the midst of a long period of adaptation. It began in the early 1990s, he said, as word processors, then personal computers, then design programs made their way into most homes. That took commercial printing away from dark rooms and letterpresses and toward offset and digital printing. Then, the internet and connected devices began taking the place of paper itself. A college that once needed course catalogs for every student, for instance, now only needs one for every advisor. What used to be an order of 15,000 is now 500.
"We're not really in business against other printers as much as we're against digital," Verdi said. "The biggest fear is that the work you're doing is not going to exist. That's what we battle with every day."
That fear has partially come true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With no wedding invitations, theater playbills or wine tour itineraries to print this summer, the season was "abysmal" for Jacobs, Verdi said. A Paycheck Protection Program loan allowed the company to keep all of its staff, but most of that lost work has yet to return. In times of economic hardship, Verdi noted, print budgets are typically one of the first things to go.
But the Jacobs president is hopeful. Times are tough, but Verdi believes that the 105-year-old Auburn company is in the business of something timeless.
"People like holding and reading something," he said. "That's why books are still out there. You need to give people forms in doctor's offices. Companies still want to send out letters on their letterhead."
In this Series
- 6 updates
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