My family has a history of being in the printing industry. Both my father and grandfather worked for a newspaper in Limburg (the province in the Netherlands where I am from), and my cousin and nephews are still involved in the business.
When I met Tony Janssen, the owner of PP Print and Digital Services, formerly called Port Perry Printing, there was an immediate connection, as we both love the smell of Colitho ink.
Tony was born in Scarborough into a family which was big in the newspaper business. His Uncle was part owner of 18 small community newspapers, and his father was working for the family firm. When Tony was a year old, the family moved to Uxbridge, as his dad began working for the Uxbridge Times.
Being a small town, everything was connected. The Uxbridge Times Journal was owned by Per Hvidsten, who also owned the Port Perry Star and Port Perry Printing. Tony’s father also worked for Per Hvidsten and took advantage of an opportunity when it arose. The Hvidstens wanted to concentrate on the newspaper end of the business, so Henry, Tony’s father, purchased Port Perry Printing from Per and set out on his own.
Printing being all he knew, he purchased Star Office Supplies, a branch of the Port Perry Star, which Per Hvidsten wanted to sell. The Janssen’s moved to Port Perry, and Tony, along with his two sisters, attended R.H. Cornish and later Port Perry High.
“There were many nights when both my parents had to work to get jobs completed,” Tony explained. “My sisters and I would go in with my mom and dad, and we would sleep on a few blankets, tossed onto skids in the back.” He smiled as he relayed the story, which evidently was a positive memory for him.
During the high school years, Tony worked part-time for the family business. “Some days, it seemed like a full-time job,” he said. “We were always stuffing envelopes or folding things.” When he grew older, he ran the Heidelberg press, which was a very complex machine to operate, from what I recall.
Tony decided he wanted to try something different and, upon graduation, enrolled in an architecture course. He enjoyed it but was surprised how much he missed the printing industry. A year or so later, he decided to return to Port Perry and make the printing business his career.
When he was twenty-five, he purchased the business from his father, who dabbled in it for a few more years but then retired. By now, the family had built a brand new building on North Street (the current home of PP Print), and Tony made a few changes. He purchased a massive, four-colour ink press from a UK company and had it shipped to his premises. “It cost me more to ship it than it did to buy it,” he said laughingly.
With the nineties came a new digital age. Port Perry Printing became PP Print and Digital Services, and a Xerox replaced the Heidelberg. The printing demands were also changing, and short runs were the future. Tony had a staff of nine, the same number he has today, but the business has changed dramatically over the years.
The newspaper business was still in his blood. After the turn of the new millennium, Tony had an opportunity to purchase a small newspaper out of Lindsay. He operated CAPS as a community newspaper, servicing Scugog, Lindsay and Kawartha Lakes. People were eager to read all the latest news happening in their communities.
Sadly, the writing was on the wall for small newspapers, and the internet was eating into a big chunk of the business. Tony decided to close down the paper and, with great foresight, stayed ahead of the rapidly changing printing industry. He switched direction and shifted toward signage, promotional materials and book printing and binding, as well as creating dozens of small booklets for the community. Arts guides, calendars, and community publications were the future, and PP Print was slightly ahead of the game.
As if operating a printing business was not enough, Tony has been involved in the community as long as he has been in business. Since he was twenty-five, he has been a member of the Chamber of Commerce and has had two lengthy runs as Chair. He is on the Economic Development Committee and the Port Perry 150 Committee. He has participated in numerous events around town.
I asked him what the future holds, and he smiled. Retirement is certainly on the horizon, but how does someone who is extremely active suddenly call it quits? For the most part, Tony and his wife Lana would like to spend more time with their six grandchildren, but who knows. There are always new initiatives on the horizon. If Tony’s past is an indicator of his future, he will undoubtedly take hold of something exciting.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on Rogers TV, the Standard Website or YouTube.