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Gann Bros. printing, a century-old Portland family business, makes a new home in Forest Grove

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Michael Gann operates a printing press at Gann Bros. Printing in Forest Grove on Monday, May 20.

For Gann Bros. Printing, there is no job too small or too large.

On a Monday afternoon, Michael Gann is doing what they in the business call "making ready." He's setting up a plate to run through a letterpress machine.

The machine whirls loudly while an envelope runs through, and can be seen from the storefront window for onlookers to check out.

The Gann's workspace feels like a blast from the past. The five old Original Heidelberg letterpress printing presses were owned by their father. Neither Michael nor his brother Christopher Gann remember exactly when his father, Steven Gann, purchased the machines manufactured by the Heidelberger Druckmaschinen company in Germany. They know that they used to watch him operate them long before they began in the business.

Michael and Christopher Gann are carrying on a three-generation family business that reaches back to 1915. After decades in Portland, the business moved its headquarters to Forest Grove in April, setting up residence next to Theater in the Grove, 2032 Pacific Ave.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - The large printing equipment is frequently the talk of passerby who regularly stop and check out Gann Bros. Printing on Pacific Avenue.

Once known as the last commercial printing company on "Printer's Row," in the Pearl District, the Ganns said they have found a new home in Washington County.

"The building we just sold (on Northwest Johnson Street in Portland) is all Michael and I have ever known," Christopher Gann said. The first building the printing business set up shop is where the Portland State University Library now stands.

"Things have changed," he said.

Moving out of the city

In the past, Gann Bros. Printing published projects like recipe books and the state of Alaska's driver's manual.

Today, Gann Bros. Printing, while maintaining many clients from Portland, is already working alongside the local community. This year, it's handling printing the graduation tickets for Forest Grove High School.

The shop will print everything from business cards to posters, invitations, race numbers — almost anything under the sun, Michael Gann said. They go old-school, relying on old-fashioned printing presses rather than digital copy machines, which he said adds a level of quality and dimension.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Christopher Gann holds a negative from a previous print job at Gann Bros. Printing. Unlike other printing shops, which rely on digital printing, Ganns uses techniques passed down from three generations.

"I feel like I am more of a museum doing printing and explaining to people what this whole aspect of printing is," Michael Gann said. "Shops like us, even though there aren't many of us out there, they've never gotten rid of them."

Gann Bros. Printing will begin teaching classes for community members in the near future, he said. In the past, the printing shop held tours for school groups.

Making the large move

Michael Gann said he wasn't quite ready to retire as the shop closed in its previous location on Northwest Johnson Street and he took off to find a place where he and his brother could continue to create.

Soon, he discovered Forest Grove and commutes every day from the West Hills area in Multnomah County.

"I like the sense of community and the sense of welcome here," Michael Gann said. "To have Mount Hood in my windshield on the way home is amazing."

The business today

Many people think they can create printed materials themselves, but print shops like Gann Bros. Printing can dive into the small technical issues that other printers can't, Michael Gann said.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - The equipment used at Gann Bros. has been in use for decades. Staff at the printing shop say using the presses is like using a piece of history.

Many people try digital because society is changing, Christopher Gann said. but letterpress is still a sought after commodity.

"People want things faster, cheaper and have more selection," he said. "If you go to a big grocery store, you have 50 choices of bread. If you go to a bakery, they may have 10 loaves of bread. They both sell bread, but there is a difference between a grocery store and a bakery. It is a different animal."

The shop is known as a commercial printing shop, but it goes beyond making material for other businesses and more like a "gamut of everything," Michael Gann said.

"The other aspect of moving to Forest Grove is because we are nostalgic," he said. "Back in the 1920s to 1940s, like a corner butcher shop, everyone would come in and it was a meeting place. That is how I envision myself. I've already had people come in asking what we do here and what is going on. You have your kid's birthday party coming up and need invitations, we do that. 'I only want 100 business cards. Can you do that?' Yes. It all depends on what you want and how you want it done. No job is too small and no job is too large."

While the shop is run by the two brothers, the Ganns are working with Pacific University accounting and art student Sabrina Spurlock, who they hope to teach the ins and out of the industry.

"I have an idea on how the space will look moving forward, like making a mural to draw students in," Spurlock said. "I think an online presence is what we are aiming toward."

In the future, the Ganns want to balance carrying on the press while "introducing themselves to the modern realm," Michael Gann said.


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