Surrounded by stacks of paper, ink containers, and cardboard boxes, Denise Jones taps the top of a gray metal cutting machine.
Beside her, a printing press whirs, and shiny cylindrical instruments inside spin. Jones is used to the hums and drones of the printer. She’s operated the machine for nearly 40 years, and took ownership of Jones Printing Co. from her father in 1981.
The business faces a different landscape than it did in 1948, when Jones’ father opened the shop in East Liberty. As a brick-and-mortar store, Jones says she and her co-owner, Brittee Clay, have had to adjust to the internet and, in their current Homewood location, to a changing community.
“It’s been a struggle,” Jones said. “Just staying in business, let alone staying in business in Homewood.”
This is the third location for Jones Printing. After its first spot in East Liberty, the business moved to Point Breeze, and then to Homewood on Frankstown Avenue. It sits alongside two other longtime, family-owned Homewood businesses, Strong’s Cleaners and Dorsey’s Records.
Jones’ father picked up the printing trade during his time in the Air Force, she said, and she learned how to operate the machines when she attended the now-closed Connelley Technical Institute. Over the years, she’s become so familiar with the now 15-year-old printing press that she can repair it whenever it glitches.
"We’ve basically learned how to fix it ourselves,” Jones said. Stickers for a local company are scattered around her and piles of brushes lay near a paint-splattered sink behind her. There are some colorful mugs with business logos next to lots and lots of cardboard boxes. The building itself isn’t huge -- it’s no warehouse. Rather, it’s divided into several small offices and a long printing room.
Together with Clay, Jones said the two have navigated the changing print industry, including the rise of the internet. Online companies like Vista-Print and Zazzle market their services to consumers who can print business cards or custom mugs from their couch, rather than set up an appointment with a company.
“The internet … it’s taken us for a run,” Jones said. “But [Clay] knows the computers and the digital printing and all the new, upcoming stuff. She knows all of that.”
Jones and Clay are both African-American women in an industry that’s dominated by white men. Over the years, that’s made it difficult for them to be taken seriously. When Jones or Clay answer the phone, callers sometimes ask to speak to a man.
“It’s rough,” Jones said. “It’s definitely rough being woman -- period. Because you don’t get the same respect that a man would ... and being a black woman is just as bad, so it’s rough.”
Despite the challenges, the two cater to a diverse size and type of clientele. They print for large public agencies like the Port Authority of Allegheny County and ALCOSAN, as well as churches and smaller, local businesses. These repeat customers trust the expertise of Jones’ business, she said, and they appreciate the convenience.
“We’re a one-stop print shop,” Jones said. “If you stop here, you don’t have to go no further. We can design it, we can print it and we can deliver it.”
Jones Printing has transformed itself along with the city of Pittsburgh. It’s gone through physical moves and industry changes and the women behind are still ready as ever to customize a banner or flyer for local customers.