As ex-owners depart, Swifty's remains -- and so does its legacy
Wolf's Museum of Mystery hawks its collection of curiosities in St. Augustine, Fla. That's not down the street, so head over to the museum's garish website, where you're invited to find "oddities, antiques, rare art, artifacts and exotic photographs."
The photograph that Chuck and Nancy Pappas found some years ago could be called "exotic." Certainly, it was unexpected -- a group shot of the 1942 class at Junior High West. Among those shown was A. Henry Ottoson, whose name would someday adorn the middle school.
When selectmen honored the retiring owners of Swifty Printing in January with a proclamation, the couple immediately returned the favor, presenting the board with a broad, framed 1942 photo.
While visiting the museum, perhaps in 2012, Nancy said she "struck up a conversation with the owners. I mentioned that I lived in Arlington, MA. The minute I mentioned the town, they retrieved the photo.
To be displayed at Ottoson
"We couldn't help but make the purchase where we displayed it for three years at Swifty. When we retired, we decided to donate it to the town. [Selectman] Kevin Greeley will have it displayed at Ottoson with the intent they keep it there permanently."
Swifty Printing remains in its familiar banking location in the Heights following its owners' retirement Dec. 31 after 35 years and have turned over the business to a Woburn company.
"I can't even begin to say how you've help town," Selectman Chair Diane Mahon said at the Jan. 23 meeting. "I'm very happy for them ... and a little sad."
Greeley, who read the proclamation, said, "The world is hugged by the arms of volunteers, and these volunteers have hugged Arlington."
Beth Locke, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, presented the couple with a certificate and a gift.
How they have helped Arlington
To provide a fuller sense of what the Pappases brought to Arlington, here is a rhetorical question that has newsworthy answers. Did you know that Chuck:
-- Got into print after Northeastern University by publishing a listing of disco clubs?
-- Pursued green solutions for printing in the 1980s, long before "An Inconvenient Truth" (2006)?
-- Used his self-described tendency as a "nerd" to institute innovative technologies?
-- Helped out his community? Many years ago we created CAP, which stands for community-appreciation program. Through it, the company donated 10 percent back and eventually changed into a discount program for local nonprofits.
The Pappases have turned their business reflecting that record of achievement to David Wooldridge, owner of Data Print, 18 Cranes Court, Woburn, whose printing history dates to 1968. Arlington customers should expect little to change, Wooldridge says. One clue: When you entered Swifty's, in January, at least, you might think Nancy is still there, behind the counter. But it's a nearly full-size image of her.
Combining with Data Print allows Swifty to expand its sign-printing options, adding a flatbed large-format printer and greater ability to deliver sign, banner and window graphics.
A history of the business
That's today, but how did Swifty's come to be? YourArlington asked the former owners.
Nancy married Chuck and gained a husband as well as a business. Publishing a disco-club listing guide after leaving Northeastern University, he opened a small office on Lake Street in 1980, purchasing a phototypesetter to do the prepress production of the magazine, Disco Club News/Entertainment New England.
"The most expensive part of publishing this [listing] was the layout and typesetting," Chuck wrote in response to a series of questions. "So I ended up going back to college at Suffolk University for journalism.
"To pay for both, I bought an Itek Phototypesetter. Cutting edge at the time. This was before the preview screen, so you could only see one line at a time as you set it.
"I ended giving up the entertainment guide [after a year] and focused on college and my small typesetting business. I did typesetting for a lot of the Sir Speedy franchises in the area. They suggested I start selling printing and we could trade off work. I began doing that and eventually bought my own press. From there it just grew."
Asked how long Swifty's has been in business, Chuck responded: "That should be easy question, but it isn’t. I started Swifty as ENE Typesetting on a small storefront on Lake Street (which I believe is an ice-cream store now). It wasn’t until I moved to the Heights that I officially named it Arlington Swifty Printing.
"At the time we started, Sports Etc. was a new business and ARC travel had just opened up. I believe that was around 1980-82. So to be safe I say around 35 years. There was no Google back then to fact-check."
Print shop on the move
Asked about business locations over that time, he said: "I believe the first address was 5 Lake St. for a couple of years as ENE Typesetting. I then moved up to 1377 Mass. Ave. between The Chocolate Box and Darren’s Deli. After I out grew that location (can't remember how long), I moved up to 1341 Mass. Ave. and then had my press in a small store at 1310 Mass. Ave.," near Balich 5 & 10.
"We needed a bigger space, and 1351 became available. We had the pressroom downstairs and the copy machines upstairs. This space worked well, but soon after the old BayBank building was available and had been for sale for a while. We put an offer on it which was accepted and spent [approximately] the next 25 years at 1386 Mass. Ave.
"It seemed like a perfect location, just at the end of the heart of the business district. Since as a printing company, we didn't really need a retail location, but things sure have changed at that end of the Heights."
Changes in print technology
Asked about the major changes in print technology the business had put into effect over the years, Chuck was personal: "I always a bit of a nerd. In fact, I have had friends call me the first nerd they met who was normal. My brother-in-law called me 'Mister Gadget.'
"I have always tried to stay on the cutting edge of technology but retain the craftsmanship and art of printing regardless of if it was ink or toner. Swifty was one of the first companies to have an online ordering system.
"Back in the mid-1990s, I partnered with PagePath. In 1995, PagePath developed LAUNCH!, the leading suite of file-transfer software for the printing industry. The LAUNCH! family of products enabled PSPs [print service providers] to receive job files from customers modem-to-modem, over the internet using FTP, or via a private network.
"The ASAP! file-transfer software was added in 1998. This allowed our customers to send us files of any kind to us by 'printing' it directly to us creating a PDF, which back then was new and now is a standard.
"We were the first to get in to short-run color printing and copying with the Savin Coloroc Analog copier. Long before Canon entered the market and before the word 'digital' existed.
"Desktop publishing and digital copiers then hit the world. Many said desktop publishing would destroy printing. It did the opposite; it created more printing.
"People could now design their own stuff but now needed to print it. Back then, home or office printers were not economical, slow and not very good.
"As the digital explosion hit, the internet came to wipe out print again. It hasn't eliminated but has complemented it.
"With the ability to get jobs on and off the press faster than any traditional offset press, we were able to tap into what new marketing people needed for their product. The ability to customize every sheet we printed within a press run at full speed using variable data was unique when the iGen3 came out. No need order 10,000 pieces, which may be outdated before used."
Going 'green' early
Then there is Swifty's environmental consciousness.
"Behind the scenes, throughout the years from our very beginning, we always known as environmental friendly business -- now called 'green.'
"Before this was popular, I personally felt it was important. Long before anyone knew that there was recycled paper, Swifty used them as our in house stock."
For many years, the business has belonged to a cooperative called Renewable Choice Energy. It pays into it to replace any electricity used with power generated by wind. Any natural gas for heat or gasoline used for deliveries is then replaced with captured methane gas from landfills.
"These types of energies cost more, so most power companies will not buy them," he said. "This co-op pays the energy companies the difference, so they will use these natural resources."
Nancy's role changed
His wife, Nancy, outlined her role as the business expanded: "I was an accountant working out of the house when Swifty was going through growing pains. Chuck asked if I would help out a few hours a day. The few hours turned to full time, so I closed my practice and concentrated on what make more money for us.
"When I first started in the printing industry, we did photo typesetting, but when computers came of age, desktop publishing replaced typesetting. As for the offset printing, we would make negatives and burn metal plates to do printing on the press. All that was replaced with direct plate from computer (no chemicals involved).
"The memories I take with me are all the friends I've met over so many years. It saddens me how many people I will truly miss. The only thing I won't miss is working 50 to 60 hours a week and sometimes not seeing Chuck an entire weekend if he had to go to work weekends to keep the jobs current so we could start the new week out fresh."
Best memories in town
Asked about his best memories of operating the business in Arlington, he cited working and helping my friends, neighbors and customers.
"We would see people get married, come in with their new babies and then see their children as they got out of college. Swifty was always a place people felt home.
"We were part of the community, because we were involved in the community," he said. "I have learned printers are a unique bunch of people. Through the different print organizations I have belonged to, I found that most local printers are willing to share, teach and help each other even with the tough competition. I always liked working with the local organizations and schools."
Early on, he remembers Larry Barton, a former Arlingtonian and consultant, asking whether he would be interested in printing help for Town Day. "Little did I know that he meant for 10 years along with a chairman stint," he said.
His business memories focus on fun with the community: "One year, First Lights had free pictures with Santa along with free pony rides in the back parking lot. Another year we did a petting zoo along with Santa.
"I think that those who will be most disappointed will be our four-legged friends for whom Nancy would keep treats under the counter. If you see a dog pulling at its leash anywhere near our building, now you know why. One week we had a neighbor’s dog get of their yard and show up at Swifty twice in one week. They didn’t understand why the dog would come to our store. Nancy knew why. If she saw someone with a dog walk by, even if they weren't coming in she would bring a dog treat outside."
What were top challenges?
Asked about the biggest business challenge over the years, he was clear but fair:
"Arlington can be a difficult place to operate a business. There is very little commercial business in Arlington. There are a lot of entrepreneurs and small companies but not many companies that need a lot of printing or the unique type of production we can do.
"However, at the same time, it is a perfect location to what was once called the 128 tech belt and quick access to Cambridge and Boston. I don't think a lot people understand the cost it takes to operate many businesses.
"Printing is a very expensive business. The original iGen we invested in was close to a $500,000 investment. The challenge was to be able to produce enough work.
"However, Arlington is unique. The people have been great. I found if you give back to your community, your community will give back to you. Many of our customers companies or employment was not in Arlington, but they lived here.
"Any time their company or employer needed printing, they would bring them to us. This is unique in this world. I guess today this would be called LinkedIn or social media. I discovered: Do right to the customer, no matter how small the job was, and it can pay back in ways you will never know. Everyone is connected.
"I hope the community treats the new owner as well as it has treated me."
Comments from others: Carol Greeley, Simmons, Bowes
Real-estate agent Carol Greeley, who played tag team with Chuck leading the Chamber of Commerce president during years that encompassed at least the early 1990s to 2007, commented In January: "When Leonard Talkov stepped down as Chamber president, Chuck, myself, then working with my aunt and mother at ARC Travel; Bill Sovie of Simpson, Gumpertz and Heger; Bob Bowes; Maureen Gormley, Steve Andrew, a CPA in town and David Walkinshaw of Saville and Grannan Funeral Home at the time stepped up to reenergize the Chamber.
"I was elected president and Chuck as vice president at the time [and he was] really was a co-president with me. Carolyn Simmons was hired to work for the Chamber, and we turned the organization around from the brink of financial bankruptcy to a viable business representation for the town.
"Chuck along with the others listed above rolled up his sleeves and worked with Alan McClennen from the town’s Planning Departmnent, Senator Bob Havern and Don Marquis, then town manager, and brainstormed on how to help the small business community through CDBG grants and other programs to revitalize the business districts. We were part of the start-up of Vision 2020, and to this day Chuck has continued to help the Heights as well as the rest of the town whenever asked."
Carolyn Simmons, administrative assistant to the principal at Arlington High School, said she met Chuck and Nancy in the early 1990s at their shop, then located across the street where the vacuum place is now. "One day I walked in to have some additional printing done, and Chuck told me that he was going to be president of the Chamber of Commerce and that the Chamber was looking for someone to run the office in the Jefferson Cutter House.
"I jumped at the chance.
"Chuck, with Nancy's support, worked tirelessly to gain more recognition for the Chamber, whether it be hosting meet-and-greets at their business, addressing issues with the selectmen, being a presence for the business community or thinking of ways to be more visible in Arlington."
She calls "one of Chuck's biggest ideas" an ice cream festival, sponsored by the Chamber and held on Town Day in front of the Jefferson Cutter House.
"Chuck took his truck, drove down to the then Hood factory on the South Shore and picked up gallons and gallons of ice cream, cups and spoons, arranged for portable freezers to be delivered with dry ice, and rented an ice cream stand.
"BUT, he didn't want to stop there, so he rented a portable train and ponies to provide rides for the kids in the parking lot. We were all exhausted at the end of the day but Town day was a huge success.
"Their belief in the Chamber and the business community of Arlington has been second to none and we will miss Arlington Swifty Printing as it is today."
Realtor Bob Bowes, a Chamber executive board member, added his thought: "Back when the Chamber was run by officers, not an Executive Committee, Chuck was an amazing president. He was very dedicated and attended so many public meetings. He was the real face of the Chamber. Additionally, he was very responsible for creating some Heights merchants activities and was always focused on how to make the Heights a more vibrant shopping district.
"For several years, the Heights put on an aggressive shopping campaign over the Christmas shopping season. Chuck played a significant role in this promotion. In fact, for several years, he created an animal petting zoo in the parking lot behind his building. It was a great attraction and really helped all of the Heights merchants."
Do a search for 'Swifty' on this site: All of the mentions reflect town impact
This business news profile was published Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.
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