by Melanie Jongsma
LANSING, Ill. (May 5, 2020) – It is the “Mayberry-ness” of Lansing that Karen Kleine will miss most. Kleine is owner of Minuteman Press on Torrence Avenue. For the past 14 years, she has designed and printed forms and flyers, business cards and brochures, labels, letterhead, and lawn signs for businesses, churches, school districts, and families in Lansing and beyond. Her file of clients and projects is like a time capsule of local history.
“It’s such a good community,” she says. “People who live here are so invested in the community. They’re so, like, I don’t know, home-y. Like apple pie. And they’re really trying to hang in there and do stuff and stay positive and productive. I always felt like we should be on the news for all the good stuff we do!” Kleine is a member of the Lansing Volunteer Recognition Committee, and she remembers that they would reach out to approximately 80 volunteer organizations in Lansing in preparation for each year’s recognition dinner.
But with so many businesses unable to host events, so many schools doing digital work instead of paper work, so many menus and programs and posters no longer needed, there just isn’t enough printing business to keep the shop open. Yes, she did apply for the Payroll Protection Program, a loan designed to help businesses maintain their workforce during the COVID-19 crisis. But the available funds ran out before her application was approved, and she did not receive a response to her second application. So on April 30 Kleine closed Minuteman for good.
“I thought we’d always be here,” she says, looking around at the darkened production room. “I never thought this would happen.”
Embedded and involved
Minuteman Press is not the only Lansing company that has watched business dry up during quarantine. But the loss of Minuteman is particularly poignant because Kleine was so involved in the community and because her business was so integrated with the work of other organizations.
Kleine genuinely appreciates people’s concern about her future, but she doesn’t have a lot of answers to give right now. “People are asking me, but I don’t know what I’m gonna do yet,” she says. “I don’t even know if people are hiring right now.”
She definitely wants to stay in the graphic design field—not simply because she loves design work, but also because she understands that good design helps solve people’s problems. “When a customer comes in here and starts describing their problem and what they want to accomplish,” she says, “I get excited. I start offering suggestions, ‘How about if we do blah, blah, blah.'” She describes the process she went through to help a friend who needed a specific kind of contract in order to document and track the verbal agreements he was making with clients. She listened to his problem, researched ideas, and developed a custom form. On the one hand, it’s just a form. On the other hand, her friend’s life and business are more organized now. “I love turning chaos into rainbows,” says Kleine. “I just really wanna help people.”
Kleine lives in Chesterton, Indiana, and she’ll look for work there. If she can find something within her own community, she’d like to get as involved there as she has been in Lansing. But if no local jobs are available, she’ll expand her search to Chicago, which would be a short train ride from her home.
But first, she’ll take care of her Minuteman customers, doing whatever she can to make sure their printing needs will be met in the future. She has referred people to three local printers, and she is transferring gigabytes of files to any of her customers who want the artwork she has created for them over the years. Her lease is not up until the end of the year, so she’s selling furniture, equipment, paper, and other miscellany in an effort to keep covering expenses.
Then she’ll take some time to try and decompress. Running a business has been stressful, and giving it up has been heartbreaking, so she needs time to process before starting the next chapter of her life.
Kleine hopes that one impact of her 14 years of service is that businesses have a better sense of the importance of owning their digital brand assets—logos, fonts, specific colors, and other identifiers that make a business recognizable. She has often had to re-create logos for businesses who needed flyers reprinted but didn’t own the artwork because they had never requested it from the previous printer. “Always ask for the artwork,” she advises. “It’s part of your identity.”
And she hopes that members of a community understand the full impact that small businesses have on community life. “Just remind yourself if you want to shop online,” she says to Lansing, “to keep it local—even if it’s not easy.” Major retail sites make it very simple for consumers to shop, and find, and compare, and apply discount codes, and earn points—and it’s difficult for small mom-and-pop businesses to compete with that level of convenience. But it’s the mom-and-pops who sponsor little league and donate to LARC and give back to the community, so when they go away, the community suffers in immeasurable trickle-down effects. Minuteman Press often donated the printing of signs, programs, booklets, and other promotional items, for example, and many community organizations will miss that.
Both Kleine and Howard are still doing some work at the Torrence Avenue office, though not necessarily keeping regular hours. They are doing their best to respond to emails and return phone calls while also fulfilling any orders they can with the remaining stock and supplies on hand. New customers are being referred to the following Minuteman printers:
- Minuteman Press of Schererville, Indiana (Ask for Mary)
2315 Wicker Ave. (U.S. Highway 41) Schererville, IN 46375
- Minuteman Press of Frankfort, Illinois (Ask for Lynne)
55 Bankview Dr, Frankfort, IL 60423
“Thank you for your business and support over the last 14 years,” Kleine wrote in her April 20 letter to customers. “It’s been a pleasure serving you.”