Hot off the press: The Observer boasts 1 of 5 presses left in the state

Bert Vasquenz adjusts a machiene in the pressroom while printing black and white pages for a monthly publication.

Bert Vasquenz adjusts a machiene in the pressroom while printing black and white pages for a monthly publication.

By TAYLOR HARTZ
STAFF WRITER

Back in 1975, The Southington Observer became a source for local news in Southington, and it has enjoyed its distinction as the only local paper published and printed in town with Southington employees. For 40 years, the Observer has been rolling off the presses on Spring Street.

Today, as one of the last surviving printing presses in Connecticut, more than one-million newspapers roll off the presses each month, to be distributed throughout the region. Running for 13-hours each day, two dozen fulltime pressmen print, package, and mail approximately 250,000 newspapers each week.

In addition to distributing 15,000 weekly copies of The Southington Observer, editions of The Bristol Observer added a circulation of 18,000, and The Plainville Observer reaches 8,500 residents per week. But printing The Observer is just the start of a long day for Production Manager Kevin Smalley and his crew.

The Observer prints more than a dozen daily, weekly, and monthly publications.

Each pressman meticulously reviews and edits the thousands of prints each day, ensuring that colors line up properly, and correcting any visible flaws.

“Everything we have back there is manually driven, computers do not drive our press,” said Smalley, of the three room manufacturing office where dozens of machines run almost around the clock, “We’re artists, and this is our paint brush.”

In 2008, the newspaper industry in Connecticut saw a sharp decline, with many local papers closing their doors. Smalley, who has worked as the production manager in Southington since 2005, said the active printing press helped The Observer survive the decline.

In 2008 and 2009, Smalley said many of the publications printed out of the Southington press went completely out of business. “Luckily, we were able to fill a lot of those holes,” he said.

Thriving as a community newspaper, The Observer and the printing press it houses are busy and active and were able to make up for gaps in advertising that many papers experienced.

“Now we’re starting to see larger circulations in papers,” said Smalley. “For those that survived, there’s a little bit more meat on the bones.”

Finishing with their 32 to 40 page prints of The Observer editions by 8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the press keeps running for two full shifts, printing several publications from throughout the state.

The Weekly Greenwich Sentinel, the Polski Express, the New Britain City Journal, Citizen’s News, The Inquiring News, are just a few of the many daily, weekly, and monthly newspapers that are distributed throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York after being printed right here in Southington.

Production Manager of The Observer's press room Kevin Smalley inspects a machine while printing copies of a local publication.

Production Manager of The Observer’s press room Kevin Smalley inspects a machine while printing copies of a local publication.

College campuses have also provided a boost in business. The press prints several locally-run student newspapers, including the Yale Daily News, the Central Connecticut State University Recorder, and the Tunxis Community College Sun.

The press also prints the Bard Free Press for Bard College in New York, and provides course catalogs for several local schools, including Manchester Community College.

With few commercial printing presses left in the state, Smalley emphasized that a working printing press requires art, science, and skill.

Each newspaper or catalog starts with a computer generated PDF file, created in InDesign or Cork programs, which are processed through a software for “pagination.”

The created pages are then transmitted from “computer to plate,” generating metal plates that can be hung on the press, matched correctly, and printed.

Smalley said the detail-oriented process requires a five-year apprenticeship prior to becoming a pressman.

“There’s a lot of science behind what we do,” said Smalley, who currently has one apprentice working in Southington. “There is a lot involved, and all the small things make your paper look better. It takes a lot of time to grasp that.”

Although the technology exists for presses to be fully-operated through computers, Smalley said he prefers the “hands on” approach in Southington.

The manager believes everyone should start with a manual press because “you learn the ins and outs of printing.”

While he thinks the press has helped the local papers thrive, Smalley thinks The Observer serves an important purpose in the local communities.

“I think that the community absolutely loves the paper,” said Smalley, “and I think there is a lot of information you can’t get anywhere else.”

Photos by Taylor Hartz

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Michael Gergerick checks for errors in color ink on a recent print.

Michael Gergerick checks for errors in color ink on a recent print.

Copies of a local weekly publication run through the Spring Street press room on Dec. 28.

Copies of a local weekly publication run through the Spring Street press room on Dec. 28.

Michael Gergerick checks for errors in color ink on a recent print.

Michael Gergerick checks for errors in color ink on a recent print.

Copies of a local weekly publication run through the Spring Street press room on Dec. 28.

Copies of a local weekly publication run through the Spring Street press room on Dec. 28.

Production Manager of The Observer's press room Kevin Smalley inspects a machine while printing copies of a local publication.

Production Manager of The Observer’s press room Kevin Smalley inspects a machine while printing copies of a local publication.

Michael Gergerick adjusts a machine in the press room.

Michael Gergerick adjusts a machine in the press room.

Copies of a local paper are stacked up for distribution after printing is finished on Dec. 28.

Copies of a local paper are stacked up for distribution after printing is finished on Dec. 28.

Apprentice Michael Gergerick works in the press room on Sprint Street, checking prints for a Jan. edition of The Plymouth

Apprentice Michael Gergerick works in the press room on Sprint Street, checking prints for a Jan. edition of The Plymouth

Jamhal Majette oversees a machiene in the press room while printing several hundred copies of a weekly publication on Dec. 28.

Jamhal Majette oversees a machiene in the press room while printing several hundred copies of a weekly publication on Dec. 28.

Patrick Kennedy peers into a machine in the press room while printing a weekly paper.

Patrick Kennedy peers into a machine in the press room while printing a weekly paper.

Sean Brookman checks for errors in color ink on a recent print.

Sean Brookman checks for errors in color ink on a recent print.

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