60+ years later, Thunderbolt business owner remains dedicated to lost art of traditional printing

WSAV NOW

THUNDERBOLT, Ga. (WSAV) — Most people enjoy taking full advantage of the perks that come with living in the fast-paced digital age.

However, a local print shop owner says he still prefers doing things the old-fashioned way, at least when it comes to running the printing business he’s owned and operated for decades.

“You see my computer — I don’t have one,” said Ralph Theron Sprouse from his Rowland Avenue office, gesturing to the technology-free desk behind him.

The Greenwood, South Carolina, native says he got his start in the printing industry in 1960. A lot has changed since then. 

“Two [people] came in here one day to see about getting some printing done and brought a little thumb drive out,” said the 79-year-old owner of A and S Printing.

The letters in the shop’s title refer to owners’ surnames; Bill Aeger co-owned the print shop with Sprouse until the early 1990s.

“I said, ‘I don’t have one of them,’ and they said, ‘well, do you have such-and-such?’ and I said, ‘do you have a copy of it?’” said Sprouse, who’s worked out of his print shop since 1984, when it first opened on Bay Street.

“They didn’t have a copy, so they left and never came back,” he told WSAV NOW

“What I do is really not for two, three, five copies or whatever you need,” he said. “I mean, it’s, you know, 5,000, 10,000.”

Sprouse, a former National Guardsman who hails from Greenville, South Carolina, says he’s never used a computer in his shop and only provides offset printing services. It’s a technique that’s been around since 1875.

“The process I do is called a photo-offset,” Sprouse explained. “I have the darkroom, I photograph the copy, change the sizes; the offset part…the image will go from a metal plate to a blanket to the paper, so it’s offset to the blanket before its offset onto the paper.”

The print shop owner, who has been married to his wife Emma since 1966, says he finds the work as interesting now as he did when he first began.

“I mean, you take something and make something else out of it, or make something useful out of nothing,” Sprouse said.

He and his wife moved to Hardeeville shortly after marriage, and then to Savannah in 1978.

 In 1984, Sprouse says a colleague at Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical approached him with the idea of starting a business.

“[Bill Aeger] asked me about opening a company and buying the Kaiser equipment because they were closing and moving out of town,” Sprouse said, adding, “At that time, I said, ‘okay, that sounds like a good idea to me.’”

He’s been in business ever since, though he shares that amid increased demand for digital printing, business has been slower these days.

“One of my customers, I used to do a lot of Christmas cards for her, she is an artist,” he said.

“I would do 15,000 and she would sell them at Christmastime,” he added. “I think the last time she did them was the year before last, it was down to about 4,000 and nobody was buying them because nobody sends mail, nobody sends cards.”

The slowdown in business is a reason, Sprouse says, that his wife wants him to retire so they can relocate back to their native Greenwood and live closer to family.

“The way printing is going, I probably won’t do it much longer because it’s not enough customers to pay the bills,” Sprouse shared.

“It’s just going away, it’s a changing world,” he said.

Sprouse reiterated that while offset printing may be a lost art, he hasn’t yet stopped enjoying the work through which he’s served the community for years. 

“I’m still physically able — and I don’t know about the mentally part — but I’m physically able to do it,” he said. “How much longer? I don’t know; not a bunch of years, anyway.”

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