Print shop presses forward

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McAlister Printing Co. saw two generations of the family running the presses for almost seven decades – the operation has new owners and a new moniker today, but Joe McAlister has eager successors learning his tricks of the trade as he heads out the door.

The 2425 S. Henderson Blvd. business has been newly-christened as Pretty in Print. Aimee Modisette and her daughter, Danielle, have plans to maintain the print shop’s services and, in the coming weeks and months, expand the options.

Plans for a slow-and-steady transition didn’t last very long: taking over Monday, the new operators ended up fielding dozens of orders, getting right down to business.

“It’s a lot easier with Joe overseeing things and steering us in the direction his customers are used to going,” Modisette said. “We want to pick up where Joe left off, let it be business as usual, but we plan on adding a couple of additional products and services to what everyone is used to seeing here.”

E.D. McAlister (“Most people around town called him ‘Eddie,’” Joe says) arrived in Kilgore in 1931, graduating from Kilgore High School in ‘36. He worked after school for Adah Coleman in her printing and office supply business.

World War II took Eddie to Huntsville, Alabama. Blind in one eye, he couldn’t go overseas, Joe recalled, but he worked on bombers. His return to Kilgore was also a return to Coleman’s business, and he purchased the print shop from her in 1949.

Originally downtown, Eddie bought a new, highway lot – the current location – in 1972 and finished his building two years later.

“That’s where we’ve been since,” Joe said Wednesday. The building’s still in the same spot, but the business within has constantly evolved, first from hot metal typesetting and linotype to include an offset press (in the mid-1960s). “At the time, we didn’t have a camera or anything,” taking a hard copy of a project to Tyler to have a negative made for a plate on the press.

“When we moved here in ‘74, we bought a camera where we could shoot our own negatives. That rocked along” until the business moved to phototypesetting and then, about 1990, entered the desktop computer age with a Macintosh and laser printer: “You could actually put images on the computer.”

An image setter in 1993 replaced the camera negatives completely – to date, the company hasn’t yet gone to direct image-to-plate, still relying on negatives.

One thing that didn’t change, Joe says, was the family’s pride in doing good work: “Quality printing, good service, fair prices … just getting out in the community” in numerous ways, such as Eddie’s tenure as president of the Kilgore Chamber of Commerce in the early ‘60s, in his longtime devotion to the Kilgore Lions Club or as a member of the Texas Silver Hair Legislature.

Joe followed the example: he served 18 years with the Kilgore Boys Baseball Association in addition to work on the advisory board of the Kilgore Recreation Department. Lifelong members of Christ the King Catholic Church, both he and Eddie became Knights of Columbus.

While reaching out into the community, they didn’t send out a salesman – the business thrived mainly on its reputation and word-of-mouth, Joe says, printing everything from business cards to books.

“We always called ourselves, from the old days to now, the oilfield printers,” he said, handling a variety of office material products for the oil-and-gas sector.

Since Eddie acquired the operation in 1949, it’s always been a family business.

“I was down here at 7 years-old sweeping and cleaning the floor. At 12 I started running the little hand-fed letter-press,” Joe recalled. “I would come all throughout high school, working after school until after dark, running things and learning the process.”

He graduated from KHS, too, in 1969. He tried Kilgore College for a short stretch, but Joe was back at the print shop before the year was out and has been there full-time ever since.

Joe’s mother, Mary McAlister, worked in the business as well until she was sidelined by illness, succumbing at 55 years-old after a struggle of about three years. Eddie retired in the midst of Mary’s illness, and the McAlister siblings ran the shop. They inherited it in portions at their father’s death in 1993.

Craig McAlister and older brother Joe bought the shares from sisters Sharon and Sheila as well as Shirley, who’d been working there since the early ‘70s. Craig worked at the operation through the mid-’90s before setting out on a new venture, and Joe bought out his brother’s portion in about 2002.

He’s kept up the trade with other dedicated, longtime staff members like Milton Frazier, who started there just out of high school in 1972.

“He’s been here ever since. All of our employees have been here awhile,” Joe said. “We feel like we did something right because all the employees stayed.”

They’re staying on into the remade operation.

About 10 years after opening on Henderson Boulevard, Eddie built a 40-feet by 80-feet extension and took on a uniform supplier as a tenant, the first in a string ranging from a dance studio to a satellite dish company, a welder and, for the past eight years, Steve Modisette’s Extreme Pump & Supply.

The Modisettes first asked about Joe’s long-term plans three years ago. They asked again last fall, about the time Joe was pondering it hard.

“I was really kind of thinking of just selling my equipment and selling my accounts to somebody and more or less selling the buildings and property,” he said. Aimee’s interest, though, turned his thoughts in a different direction. “We worked a deal, and it eventually became a reality. On March 10, we closed and they bought the property and the business – I’m here helping them transition into it.”

The name, Pretty in Print, comes from listening to the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack at work after-hours, Aimee says with a laugh.

“We plan on incorporating screen printing and vinyl heat-press. We’re also going to incorporate wide-format for banners and such. It’s in early, early stages where we’re getting in equipment and product,” she said. “Joe had 68-plus years of stuff here. We’re still trying to clean out and make room.

“Probably in a month or two we’ll be in a position where we’ve got everything in place to get those balls rolling … Originally we were just going to buy the building and expand over here. But Joe’s got a good thing going.”

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