Welcome to The Altamont Enterprise
Print and Design shop
Every June, Jim Gardner Jr. works late nights at the print shop as he carefully places Gothic letters, cast in lead, into a wooden frame, tapping on a century-old marble-topped bench to make sure they’re even. He is forming the names, letter by letter, of each Berne Knox-Westerlo High School graduate.
He prints the diplomas, one at a time with great care, on a Heidelberg windmill letterpress. He makes sure each one is perfect and, if it’s not, he does it again.
He’s making memories to last a lifetime.
He’s been doing it for years, part of a family tradition. Like his father, James E. Gardner, Jim Gardner Jr. started working at the print shop when he was in high school. In fact, he printed his own diploma.
James Gardner Sr. was a junior at the old Altamont High School in 1953 when, he recalled, “They needed another worker and several of the guys thought I’d be a good fit.”
He was such a good fit that he never left and now owns and runs the business with his wife, Wanda Gardner.
Mr. Gardner started out carrying forms — heavy wooden frames laden with tightly packed lead — from the first-floor print shop in the Victorian frame building on Altamont’s Main Street down the steep stairs to the cellar that housed the press. “That was work; it took strength and concentration,” said Mr. Gardner. “We became weightlifters.”
When the press ran, villagers on the street knew it; they could feel the vibration.
At that point, The Altamont Enterprise was already 69 years old and, typical of the era, was both a newspaper and a print shop. It was jointly owned by Howard Ogsbury, Jim Pino, and Marvin Vroman.
Mr. Gardner moved up, literally and figuratively, into doing printing jobs, composing type on the Intertype for the newspaper, and making ads with handset type. He joined the other three as a full partner in 1969. A decade later, Mr. Gardner was the sole owner.
“I just loved The Enterprise and wanted to see it improve,” said Mr. Gardner who often worked 12-hour days, seven days a week — and still does.
When he served as best man for his brother’s wedding, Wanda Sturgess was the maid of honor for the bride. “It was love at first sight,” said Mr. Gardner. Mrs. Gardner, a Berne-Knox graduate, had attended Albany Business College and after, their son, Jim, and their daughter, Gail, were older, she started working at The Enterprise and is now the business manager.
The printing business evolved, moving to offset and now digital as technology advanced. “If we were going to survive, we had to do things differently,” said Mr. Gardner.
Today, the shop provides cutting-edge printing with two graphic designers on the staff. “We offer process-color work, design, printing, and color digital copies,” said Mr. Gardner.
And the shop still does traditional letterpress printing, a rarity these days, often sought by historical societies and others who want the class and distinction of imprinted work.
Mr. Gardner recalls with a chuckle a customer watching him feed the platen press, one sheet at a time. “You get so you can whistle right along,” he said. The customer was amazed and said, “I thought you printed them all at once. I can’t believe you do it one at a time.”
Through the decades, the shop has guaranteed personal attention and a timely turn-around time, even for custom work.
Mr. Gardner is known for his precision and care. He always has a line gauge in his back pocket. He can read type upside down and backwards. And his eagle eye can spot an error at a glance.
What keeps him at it after all these decades?
“Being able to create something,” he said, “to do it from start to finish, and see a happy customer at the end that appreciates it.”
- Melissa Hale-Spencer