As newspaper circulation crumbled locally and across the country, Rick Sant thought the market was right two years ago to convince Stacey Cowles to purchase a new printing press for Spokane. Well, two, actually.
Already the owner of a nearly 40-year-old steel monstrosity that could churn out tens of thousands of broadsheet newspapers for The Spokesman-Review an hour, the sell seemed like a stretch for the family-owned publishing company.
“Stacey believed the story that we could sell commercial print to help augment the newspaper,” said Sant, 65, who is now semiretired . “It just took a while.”
Sant previously had worked with S-R Editor Rob Curley at the Orange County Register in Santa Ana, California. (It moved in 2017 to a new facility in Anaheim.)
While there, Sant expanded the company’s commercial printing footprint to help augment the income to the newspaper as revenues from advertising continued to decline. Curley passed along that information to Cowles, the publisher of The Spokesman-Review since 1992.
“Stacey called and hired me to get something going here,” Sant said.
The newspaper had its own downtown production facility, complete with a Goss Metro offset press, which had been converting massive rolls of newsprint into newspapers since Feb. 2, 1981.
Cowles said the newspaper had been searching for other ways to use the press to make a profit other than just printing newspapers for years before Sant’s proposal. While the Goss Metro could – until it was shut off last Sunday – it printed as many as 70,000 papers an hour or 200,000 a night, the steel beast could only produce a one-sized product.
“We needed a press that was versatile and yet big enough to continue to produce our daily newspaper,” Cowles said. “We couldn’t outsource (the printing) like most newspapers across the country. We were really stuck.”
So, Sant went hunting.
“It’s kind of the wild, wild West with used equipment. You have to wait for the right one,” he said.
He found it: an early 2000s press called the Goss Magnum. It previously had printed The New York Times in Ann Arbor, Michigan, until it was mothballed and put in storage by imPRESSions Worldwide, which specializes in buying used Goss presses.
The Magnum is “a singlewide press. That allows you to do a whole bunch of different sizes: long tabs, booklets, short tabs, anything you want,” Sant said.
The Goss Metro was designed for volume and speed. While it printed in color, it couldn’t match the quality of the newer Magnum.
“Back in the day, the circulation was huge. You needed a super-fast press,” Sant said. “But we don’t need to print a lot anymore. We needed flexibility and variability. That’s what the new press was all about.”
After Sant found the Magnum, the next problem was where to put it. The downtown production facility at 1 N. Monroe St., had a 240-ton resident, the Metro. The company, which has been expanding its commercial rental holdings , began looking elsewhere.
“We looked for a warehouse for a while, but there was just nothing on the market” that fit the needs of the new press, Sant said.
The two-story structure built around the Goss Metro wasn’t built with efficiency in mind, Cowles said.
“We flat out didn’t have room downtown,” he said. “That led us to: ‘We’ve got to have a new plant and start from scratch.’ ”
So, the company built Northwest Offset Printing on family-owned property at 19223 E. Euclid Ave., in Spokane Valley.
In the meantime, Sant got a lead on another press and got the OK to purchase it as well. The Goss M-600 specializes in magazine-quality printing for much smaller-volume runs than the Goss Magnum, which prints about 35,000 newspapers an hour.
“That (M-600) came on the market at a ridiculously low price. It was just a steal,” Sant said. “We had our hands full trying to get the Magnum in. But, we just couldn’t pass up the deal.”
The M-600 is a premier press for using a process called heat set. The press has heating towers help set colors for magazine-quality finishes.
“Now it’s basically a one-stop shop. There is nothing Northwest Offset Printing cannot do and cannot do better than any press in Washington, Idaho, half of Montana and even Oregon,” Sant said. “There is a high-quality printer in Portland, but I think Northwest Offset is going to give them a run for their money.”
Russ Snelling replaced Sant as operations manager at Northwest Offset. He said the M-600 should be printing projects by mid-August.
“Rick had the vision and I guess you could say myself and my team are executing that vision,” Snelling said. “It’s taken a whole bunch of good people to get us to the point we are now.”
The new Magnum press started printing the newspaper with the Monday edition.
“I came into an empty building on January 2 and it’s been a five-month run. Right now, we are getting the Magnum going,” Snelling said. “The M-600 has been all mechanically placed on the floor. We are waiting for some key components for that press. The installers come back in mid-July and should be finished by mid-August.”
Printing in the Valley ended a 125-year run of printing a newspaper in downtown Spokane.
“From a sentimental standpoint, it’s pretty sad to have a press move out of downtown,” Cowles said. “But you know, business is business. Unfortunately, that has to take precedence. If I had my druthers, we’d turn off the internet and go back to the way things used to be. But, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
The family-owned business already converted the former Chronicle Building into apartments. It once housed the Spokane Chronicle afternoon newspaper until it shut down in 1992.
“We got involved in downtown retail with my great grandfather,” Cowles said. “He rented to retailers, I think, with the idea that it would be good for the advertising market.”
Still, Cowles said it will be a challenge to convert the production facility that houses the Goss Metro printing press into office or retail space.
“What’s the highest and best use for the land and the property we own? That’s not an easy challenge,” he said. “We now have our own real estate management company. Those folks will figure out something for that building.”
A portion of it already has been leased to Dry Fly Distilling.
But before the building can be converted into some new use, the old Metro press, which has 12 units each weighing about 40,000 pounds, must come out. It’s built on an 8-foot-thick pad of concrete. Cowles said crews with cutting torches will dismantle the massive structure piece by piece.
The process will include building a gantry crane inside the building to move massive chunks of steel out a window near the entrance on Monroe Street. The family could not find any buyers, so the press that printed the newspaper for about 14,000 days will be sold as scrap.
“Getting the old Goss press out is going to be a huge project in itself,” Cowles said. “That includes all the piping for the ink. It took two days to pump ink to get it to the press units. There is no way to get the ink out without cutting the pipes out in sections.”
Crews will start in August dismantling the now idle press. “Our goal is to get it out by the end of the year,” Cowles said.
In the meantime, crews continue to work through the kinks caused by shifting the newspaper’s print operations to the Mangum. Northwest Offset is also busy two or three days a week printing jobs for about 30 weekly and monthly publications in addition to the Spokesman-Review.
“That’s the business that keeps growing,” Cowles said. “I’m super proud of the crew out here. We have had a couple guys who had five hours of sleep this week because we have been operating in two locations. Their plates have been overflowing in the last week and will continue to be as we continue to get all the bugs worked out.”
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