About one year ago, I took a letterpress workshop with Nancy Hill of Hazel & Violet Ink. She took us through very basic letterpress printing along with a tour of the studio, where she explained each press she owns with her business partner. Throughout the tour, she explained how she came to run her own print shop, almost by accident! For my research project I decided to interview with Nancy, to find out more about what it is like to run a print shop in the heart of Downtown Phoenix, Arizona.
Tilton Development Company purchased the southwest corner of Fourth and McKinley in early 2014, evicting all businesses that had resided in that corner lot. Several businesses were forced to move to other locations as a result, but Hazel & Violet was excited to move into a larger shop with a closer proximity to the First Friday happenings (2).
Lauren: Can you tell me about where your shop is located in Downtown Phoenix, and why you chose to set up your shop at this location?
Nancy: My shop is at 1301 NW Grand Avenue #6 on the McKinley side street.
Longtime friends Nancy Hill and Beverly Wolfe hit the jackpot with a Craigslist post by a man retiring from the printing business, they knew they were onto something. The women's work flow is pretty close to how it was done a hundred years ago; they feed each page, by hand, into their 1922 Chandler & Price letterpress they affectionately call "Beauty." They have cases and cases of type in different sizes and fonts, plus some hard-to-find wooden type. At one point, they had so much extra type that they unloaded a bunch to the ASU print shop (3).
Lauren: How long has Hazel & Violet been in business?
Nancy: Since 2008.
Lauren: How did you get into the business of letterpress?
Nancy: My business partner, Beverly Wolfe and I wanted to get a small tabletop press in an effort to express our love of typography and paper. We looked on Craigslist for a while and finally found a full letterpress shop for sale in Apache Junction. We bought it and completely redid her double car garage in Ahwatukee, turning it into a print shop. We both had full time jobs so we printed into the night and on weekends.
Lauren:What is the backstory on how your shop came to fruition?
Nancy: When we first got the press, cutter, type, etc. we got hooked up with a national group called 'Ladies of Letterpress' - through them we decided to go to the National Stationery Show in NYC. There we learned that we did not want to be in the wholesale business - so we turned our attention to commercial and custom letterpress. The business became full time in 2013.
Lauren: I remember there being a story about how you obtained your original presses for the shop, can you refresh my memory on that?
Nancy: We have since moved our shop - first to 724 N. 4th Street and then to the Grand Avenue location. We now have 1500 sq ft and a great location for workshops and art shows.
Lauren: Where were your presses previous to being in your shop?
Nancy: The original owner was Jack Judah in Apache Junction - He and his father had the business for many years.
Hazel and Violet INK has transitioned from a local clientele to courting national buyers at trade shows, but is now circling back to a more local focus (3).
Lauren: What has been the most challenging part of owning a letterpress shop?
Nancy: Making money.
Lauren: Can you tell me about your current projects?
Nancy: We do more wedding invitations and announcement than anything - but we also do business cards, menu covers, greeting cards, coasters and art prints.
In the interview and through online research, I was able to find out how the shop came to be, history of the presses, and the ups and downs of owning a small business in Downtown Phoenix, Arizona. I really enjoyed getting to know more about Nancy and Hazel & Violet Ink through this process.