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Former Workers Hope to Save Seaport Museum's 19th-Century Print Shop

By Julie Shapiro | April 4, 2011 4:57am | Updated on April 4, 2011 4:56am

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — The presses at Bowne & Co. Stationers on Water Street have fallen silent.

The restored 19th-century print shop, which was both a working business and a part of the Seaport Museum New York, has been closed since the middle of February, when the museum slashed its staff.

Now, a group of former museum employees and volunteers are banding together to bring attention to the beloved neighborhood shop. They have created a blog called Friends of Bowne and are inviting people to share their photos and memories, in the hope of raising interest in reopening it.

"We want to provide a voice for Bowne to make sure it doesn't get lost in the shuffle," said Laura Nicholas, 30, a former volunteer in the shop.

So far, more than 100 people have joined the group's Facebook page. One fan wrote that the closure of Bowne is "heartbreaking" and others asked what they could do to help.

Leading the effort is Doug Clouse, 44, an Upper West Side resident who ran the shop full-time until the museum put him and 31 other museum staffers on unpaid leave on Valentine's Day.

Clouse said he is most worried about what will happen to the collection of rare wood and metal type and other printing implements if Bowne & Co. closes for good.

A spokesman for the Seaport Museum released a statement saying the museum "is committed to preserving and maintaining the shop and its equipment, and is hopeful that printing operations will resume once the museum has addressed some of its immediate financial challenges."

The spokesman did not offer a timeline, and Clouse said he has heard nothing from the museum's leadership about when he and others might be able to return to their jobs. The museum's website still lists Bowne & Co. as being open seven days a week.

Bowne & Co. launched in 1975 as a tribute to lower Manhattan's past as a printing district. With four antique presses and hundreds of century-old pieces of type, the shop was designed as a recreation of an 1870s print shop that once operated a few doors down.

Over the past several decades, Bowne & Co. became an educational destination, where everyone from school groups to curious passersby could learn about the craft of printing and watch the laborious process of placing each piece of type by hand.

But the shop was also a favorite local retailer, a place where residents went to get their birth announcements, wedding invitations and business cards.

"It feels like a little treasure downtown," said Nicholas, a freelance designer who lives in the Bronx. "It's a mom-and-pop model: The same person you talk to when you're discussing concepts [for the print] is also the one who is producing the final product. It's unique in that way."

Clouse said customers also liked the green aspect of the business — the presses are run by a foot pedal, so they don't require electricity.

Clouse first found the shop five years ago while doing research on the history of typefaces for a graduate school course. He immediately began volunteering, and then in June he rose to the "master printer" position.

"When I discovered it, I fell in love with it," he said.