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Photos Jonathan Castner

Denver Bookbinding Company

by Eric Peterson on July 18, 2019, 11:59 am MDT

www.denverbook.com

Denver

Founded: 1929

Privately owned

Employees: 10

Industry: Contract Manufacturing

Products: Bookbinding services

Third-generation owner Gail Lindley has adapted her company to a new world of publishing with purpose and perseverance.

At the dawn of the 20th century, nearly 100,000 people worked in the bookbinding industry in the U.S. Lindley estimates that's dropped by 99 percent, give or take.

And where there were once five hardcover binderies in Colorado, Lindley's Denver Bookbinding Company is as the last one standing in a nine-state region. 

It's been in her family since her grandfather, Axel Erslund, bought the company in 1946, back when it was located on Welton Street in Five Points. The company migrated to a location in the thick of what is now the trendy LoHi (Lower Highland) neighborhood before moving to its current 10,000-square-foot location in northwest Denver in 2012.

Erslund passed away in 1972 and his wife and daughter, Sylvia Erslund and Rita Lundquist, started running it with Lindley, who dropped out of school at University of Northern Colorado to come back to the family business. "We became a woman-owned business," says Lindley. 

Denver Bookbinding peaked at 35 employees in the late 1980s, before the industry began to change dramatically. "In 2007, libraries started to transition to digital," says Lindley.

The University of Colorado Health Sciences Center's bookbinding budget fell from $40,000 to $500. "That was a big drop from one customer, and that was happening at binderies across the country," says Lindley.

Diversification became a necessity. "We looked at our mix [in the late 1980s]. CSU was 20 percent of our sales," says Lindley. "We said, 'This is no good.'"

The company survived with a pivot from libraries to self-publishing authors and printing businesses. Lindley says libraries still account for about 30 percent of Denver Bookbinding's sales, but printers account for half and self-publishers 20 percent. The minimum order is one and the per-copy binding costs range from about $5 in runs of 5,000 or more to $300 or more for a single high-end, goatskin-bound book.

Denver Bookbinding looked to the Web in the early 1990s and cast a national net. Lindley notes that there are only about 20 hardcover binderies in the U.S. so she gets orders from all over the country. Many projects involve production runs of 500 books or on-demand printing.

Denver's Publication Printers contracts with Denver Bookbinding Company and other printers to make hardcovers of everything from luxury guides for hotels to children's books. Other printer clients include R.R. Donnelley and Steuben Press in Longmont.

The company's production floor is akin to Willy Wonka's factory for bookworms, with century-old machinery in use alongside modern technology. "I have equipment from the late 1800s up through computers," says Lindley. "It spans a century. That's what makes us able to make a personal order for somebody, where no one has anything like it."

Bookbinding materials include canvas, vinyl, leather, and goatskin and the company can customize books with foil stamping and other options. Three-ring and other binders for business and educational material round out the catalog.

Denver Bookbinding Company remains a family affair. "I'm the third generation out of five," says Lindley, noting that she works with her daughter, Erica Sanchez, and her grandson, Damon Sichler.

Lindley says the business has been relatively stable other than some ups and downs related to its move in 2012. 

Based on a vision she had during a recent trip to New Mexico, Lindley has made a desert tortoise named Magellan the company mascot. The indefatigable reptile is now featured in art around the office and on a tattoo on Lindley's wrist.

The symbolism? "We keep moving forward," she says.

Challenges: "The big challenge is of course to beat the taxman," says Lindley. "I think taxes are going to continue to go up. As a business, you don't have a say in it."

She says tax increases forced the company to move from LoHi in 2012. "When your taxes go up by $5,000 a year, that has an impact on your small business," Lindley notes.

Opportunities: Lindley says the printed page is making a comeback. "It's much more beneficial for your brain than reading off a computer," she says, referencing recent research that found toddlers prefer paper to digital.

The company offers monthly bookbinding and papercraft classes upstairs in its 300-person events center, and Lindley sees growth in special events in the space in northwest Denver.

Needs: "We need a more educated city council on how their decisions impact small business," says Lindley. "My main concern is their property tax and assessments. . . . If I'm just trying to hold on to what I have, it's a huge detriment."

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