E’ville Biz is an ongoing series spotlighting our thriving small business community.
Once upon a time…
There were two families with two children and one rabbit living in a happy suburb of Sacramento.
The kids – a boy and a girl – grew up together, traded Valentines in grade school, dated in high school and on their way to college, fell in love.
The boy studied microbiology; the girl – international studies and French and then law school. To break up the monotony of reading endless law books and practicing French, the girl took a letterpress printing class. Just for fun.
When they decided to get married, the girl – we’ll call her Alexandra (because that’s her name) was at a loss to find wedding invitations that she loved and that fit her budget. The boy, we’ll call him “Craig” said, “Why not buy a letterpress machine and make your own?” And because this solved the problem of the unaffordable, unlovable wedding invitations and because in addition to falling in love with Craig, she’d fallen in love with paper and ink and printing, this is exactly what she did.
Actually it was the beginning. In 2009 while working, going to law school and getting married, Craig and Alexandra Rinde started their own letterpress business – Aerialist Press, named after Alex’s favorite poem “The Aerialist” by Sylvia Plath.
Announcing to their shocked families that they were taking a hard left turn career-wise, and renting a 5’x 7’ storage unit on the outskirts of Emeryville, they launched their dream with a circa 1914 press that cost $1,000 to buy and another $500 to ship from Michigan. The storage unit had no electricity and barely enough room for the Michigan press and the both of them.
Letterpress the way Aerialist does it means feeding each sheet of the dreamy Crane & Co. paper (the only kind they use) into the press by hand. This keeps the print quality high and sets them apart from their competition: whether they are printing 1 piece or 1,000, each one is hand fed. To produce their first customer orders, Alex hand fed each sheet of paper into the press while Craig turned Michigan’s flywheel by hand.
“There was no light in the storage unit,” Craig says and laughs about Alex mixing inks on the floor in the hallway. “We wanted it,” he says.
And They Got It
Aerialist moved to their current space in the Emeryville Warehouse Lofts in 2012 where they had room to add a second letterpress machine, this one circa 1899. Focusing on the wedding industry – which represents 95% of their business, Aerialist Press grew through organic Google searches, referrals from wedding planners, mentions on wedding websites and word of mouth.
“People see the invitations and fall in love,” Alex said.
“We’re in Love, You’re in Love, We’re All in Love”
I’m sitting in the cozy second floor client reception area with a design book on my lap, a 220 stock business card in my hand and my eyes glued on the boxes of print samples that cover an entire wall. The colors – about fifty or so custom blended inks – are vibrant and the designs, an innovative blending of the traditional and the modern are captivating. Alex tells me that her goal was to have designs that anyone could fall in love with – a little something for everyone.
While I am visiting with Alex and Craig, two future brides drop by to pick up their huggable boxes of invites. They are beaming: obviously happy to be getting married and thrilled with the invitations Aerialist has crafted for them. I ask Alex why she thinks paper makes people so happy.
“Something happens when you hold a piece of really great paper. It’s beautiful to look at, but it also feels extraordinary. It’s so different from what you handle every day because most of us are only used to paper that comes out of our inkjets. When we make contact with beautiful, finely printed paper, it leaves an impression.”
Then she says something that explains why Aerialist Press is attracting customers from as far away as Australia: “Paper and ink are common, mundane things. We [Aerialist] take something common and mundane and create something unique and uncommon and special. That is why people love it.”
Love is definitely a theme at Aerialist Press. And why not? Alex and Craig are urban alchemists who take the ordinary and make it amazing.
Doing Business in Emeryville
Alex and Craig love being in Emeryville, citing the great location and easy access from the city. It is central to the Bay Area and their local clients span the distance from Silicon Valley to Napa. “The City can be expensive,” Craig said, “so Emeryville is a great alternative. Between the freeways converging, BART and the Emery Go-Round, Emeryville offers easy access.”
Apparently others in the wedding industry have gotten the word – Alex and Craig shared that some of their favorite wedding industry vendors are moving to Emeryville.
Awesome. More E’ville love.
The Future’s So Bright
Wedding season keeps Aerialist busy from February through September. Alex and Craig try to travel a bit in the fall. The winter, they are busy building their business and getting organized for the next season. Personally I’d be a big fan of Aerialist holiday cards, but we’ll have to wait and see about that. And if there is any time left over, Alex confessed that she loves to watch shows about weddings. Works on weddings all day long and still loves them. Craig? Um…no wedding shows for him, thank you.
This year Aerialist took on two interns. Next year they are contemplating adding permanent staff and expanding into foil stamping so they can add metallics to the array of colors customers can choose from.
This story would not be complete without mentioning the rabbit. If you live on Park Avenue or walk by the Emeryville Warehouse Lofts, you’ve probably seen her sitting in the window. Blondie is the second of two rescue bunnies that have had the good fortune to live with Alex and Craig. She’s a little shy, loves anything green and if you are lucky, you might see her scampering up and down the stairs at Aerialist making sure all is well in this kingdom of happily ever after.
The Aerialist Press
1514 Park Ave
Emeryville, CA 94608
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