Berkeley printing store closes after 42 years in business

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Enrique Lopez/Staff

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Inkworks Press, a Berkeley printing shop with a history of facilitating political activism, held a grand finale event Saturday after 42 years in business.

Founded by Erica Braun and Wakean MacLean in 1974, Inkworks printed a broad range of materials, including magazines, flyers, posters and pamphlets for the community. It was a collective enterprise, meaning no single person had total control of the business, according to Lincoln Cushing, a member of Inkworks from 1981 to 2001.

Inkworks may have closed in 2014 had it not been for the Cheese Board Collective, which bought the building where the printing shop operated. According to the Cheese Board Collective’s community liaison Cathy Goldsmith, Cheese Board was looking for additional property in order to strengthen its own financial security.

Cheese Board leased the building to Inkworks at an affordable rate until its closure Dec. 31. Cushing said this sale was mutually beneficial, as Inkworks was looking for stability in times of financial strife.

According to Cushing, Inkworks sold its building to Cheese Board largely because of commercial hardship, stemming from recent developments in digital and online printing after the 2008 economic recession. Cushing added that the subsequent retirements of Inkworks collective members who had made contributions since the inception of the business were another factor that led to the closure.

Inkworks used the offset printing technique, an efficient way to produce prints in smaller quantities and sizes, Cushing said.

Besides running as a business, Inkworks also aided local activist causes, creating printed materials for many groups advocating social justice and underrepresented-minority movements, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Lives Matter and UC Berkeley student protests.

“Inkworks was the staple of the progressive movement in the Bay Area,” said Miguel Alson, the president of Autumn Printing, located on Camelia Street in Berkeley.

Though Inkworks has closed, Cushing believes that it left behind a legacy — its experimentation with an unconventional business model, as Inkworks was a nonprofit cooperative.

Cushing said Inkworks’ business model made people think about the flaws of hierarchical systems, because Inkworks chose to cut back on spending rather than lay off employees, making sure that everyone was paid equally.

In response to Inkworks’ closure, various community members have expressed regret and gratitude.

“As a fellow collective, they have always been comrades, fighting the good fight. We will miss them and wish them well,” said Ellen Callas, a general manager and collective member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, who frequented the shop.

Tito Young, a former customer from Emeryville, California, said Inkworks embodied “the last generation of conventional … old-school” printing. Alson said, however, that there was still room for offset printing to flourish.

According to Goldsmith, the Cheese Board Collective does not yet have definitive plans for the vacant building.

Contact Jason Kim at [email protected] .

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article misspelled Wakean MacLean’s name.