Paper Chase Press, The First Thing I Ever Designed, 1976 promotional flyer

Paper Chase Press is a second generation, family-run press and bindery operating out of a zero-waste facility in Los Angeles. For more than 40 years, it has printed beautiful, conscientiously made books and materials for art, fashion, and lifestyle brands (not to mention our new Eye on Design magazine). Its client list includes the likes of MoCA, Opening Ceremony, the Sundance Institute, and Partners & Spade, but it’s also popular among independent designers for its sense of collaboration and community. Its popular Paper Cuts series and Infoshop L.A. initiative commissions and curates original work from designers, and through its “Hire a Designer” service with Intelligence L.A., PCP also helps connect its clients with design talent, and vice versa.

Yet before PCP became a go-to printer for artists, designers, and cultural institutions, it was an office supply and stationery store run solely by the parents of Nicole Katz, the current owner. They fell into the custom printing business largely by accident, and through an inspired act of resourcefulness. The first hint that they would start racking up work from the art world was an early print job for an unknown actor, who pulled up to the shop on a tractor. Below, we asked Katz to give us the full story of those unlikely beginnings.

 

“In 1976, in the small airless basement of a stuccoed Los Angeles apartment building, Paper Chase Press was born. In the beginning, it was just my parents—a husband and wife team with little else but moxie.

“In its first iteration, Paper Chase Press was an office supply and stationery store. As my parents attempted to grow their clientele and make a dent in their inventory, my father decided to get the word out with fliers. He bought a one-color duplicator, and after most other businesses had closed for the day, my mom (nine months pregnant at the time) would run their brochures with product price lists.

“Featured prominently in the yellow and black block letter flyer was Liquid Paper that sold for just $0.59. Remember, this was pre-computers, and Liquid Paper was in high demand. Offices relied exclusively on typewriters for all of their official correspondence. It was common knowledge that it cost $1.25 all over town. So how could Paper Chase offer it for less? And just like that, my father built the business with a smart loss-leader that he sold for $0.01 less than his cost, and half the price of all his competitors.

“It wasn’t long before inquiries for custom printing of all sorts started to roll in. Law firms looking for pleading sheets, families looking for stationery. The final nail in the office supply store’s coffin was the first headshot order we ever received. An actor drove up to our shop (now located in a small storefront just a few blocks from the aforementioned basement) in a tractor. He presented my father with a headshot, asking if he could print some with his name next to his agency’s logo. Without hesitation my father said, ‘yes.’

“A few days later, when my father had completed his first headshot order on a single-color Heidelberg press, two more actors showed up. Within months my parents’ reputation as the printers for actors was sealed. Within a year the shop was fully outfitted with four-color presses and bindery equipment—all they needed to start printing custom projects. That was 40 years ago. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Snapshots of Paper Chase Press in its early days