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Walking into their Ren Cen shop, it becomes very clear why some of the city’s biggest players trust Allegra Print Marketing & Signs with mission-critical printing and signage. A massive back room houses their warehouse of paper supplies, printing equipment and all the tools they need for just about any presswork you can imagine. This local company focuses on business printing and mailing, but they can also offer marketing guidance and help with design.
The place hums with a calm productivity, and the customers stopping by during my visit seem to be regulars, chatting up team members like old friends. Shelley Murphy and her brother Kurt Eschenburg run the printing business with their mother, Norma, and a small but experienced team of specialists.
A few of Shelley’s favorite things.
Favorite breakfast cereal: Oatmeal
Favorite view in the city: The skyline from the back of my boat at the DYC at sunset.
Favorite color: Blue
Android or iPhone: iPhone
Favorite Detroit street name: Woodward Avenue, because it means Detroit.
Favorite Detroit event: Bravo Bravo
Core Detroit: Tell me a little about Allegra.
Shelley: We started out back in the day as a print shop – a print shop was a dirty, filthy, ink-filled room with machines and people running them all. Over the years we’ve really had to keep up with technology. We’ve evolved from this dark shop with concrete floors and everyone smoked, to all of this.
It was started by my parents back in 1983, ‘82. After my father passed away, Kurt and I stepped in to help my mom, and 20 years later we’re still here. We’re part of a franchise that started out as American Speedy Printing. When we moved to the Ren Cen we upgraded our name to the Allegra Print brand which is the more high end printing brand.
Kurt: My mom wanted a dress boutique, and my dad was an executive and he wanted to semi-retire. He knew it would be cheaper to buy her dresses, and so he told her if she wanted to go into business it had to be a real business. One of the key requirements was it had to be a franchise, and it had to be headquartered in Downtown Detroit.
Core Detroit: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever been asked to print?
Shelley: That’s a long list (laughs). There were business cards with how to put on a condom, with picture instructions. There was a hotel we did receipts for – I don’t know why they even did receipts because it was a Miss Quicky hotel – and they had receipts with like, do you want a towel for an extra $2?
Robin Fadden, Allegra’s director of customer service, pops her head into the office. Robin’s been with Allegra for 14 years. Her husband is also the press operator.
Shelley: Robin, what’s the weirdest thing we’ve ever been asked to print?
Robin: Printing on wood. I found that very funny because…paper is made from wood.
Shelley: I think it’s the people who come in and they want their receipts doctored – dates and dollar amounts on everything. For high schools graduations they come in and want to make copies of their tickets – they only get like two tickets – and we do not do that. There’s no law against printing their high school graduation tickets but we just don’t do it because we know they’re not supposed to do it.
Robin: When we were [located] across the street a guy came in with an envelope of photos and asked me to color copy them, and they were all naked photos. He was sending them to inmates.
Shelley: I remember that guy!
Robin: His name was Russell and he was working his way through college by selling color copies of naked women to prison inmates. And they weren’t very attractive women, that was the worst part.
Core Detroit: What is the most underrated things about your business?
Shelley: That we’re a one stop complete print and sign, design, marketing. I think a lot of people would be surprised that we do all our own production, and we do it all on site. People think that they come up to the counter and that we have to outsource it, but we don’t we do it all in the back. 99% of the work.
Core Detroit: What are your favorite printing jobs to work on?
Shelley: Anything that has to do with events. I like to get involved. I don’t just take the order, I often find myself sitting on their committee.
Fundraisers and stuff like that – from the first idea that starts and then all the way through the finish. Like Bravo Bravo [at the Detroit Opera House], I sit down and hear what their plan is and print everything from the save-the-dates up to the event itself. I find that a fun part of the business to be in.
Every year we do this big project for GM where we do like 70,000 envelopes, and they all need to be stuffed and shipped. We call it “the pink envelope job.” Every summer we employ half a dozen to a dozen high school students [for the project]. It takes them about four weeks; some of them are experts – they’re veterans.
They sit back there [in the back room] and they have movies going. They have teams and each team has a captain. We look forward to it every summer when they come down. They hang out at the riverfront when they come down. They start asking in March – they all have a friend or sibling who wants the job.
Core Detroit: If you were a piece of paper, what kind would you be?
Shelley: I would definitely be Star Dream paper. It’s beautiful, feels like silk and it’s got a little glitter or shine to it.
Kurt: I’d be 20-pound bond (laughs).
Core Detroit: Where is your favorite place to hang out downtown?
Shelley: It depends on the season, really. I love d’Mongo’s. I have so many choices. Even bronx bar – the one that has the patio in front of it. I love to go to the Whitney. I do two things every year as part of the DYC [Detroit Yacht Club]: for the last six years I’ve put on a pub crawl by bus, and then I also a biking pub crawl with friends. And Comerica Park, I love to go there for baseball games. Foran’s – we love to go there.
Robin: In the summer time you went to those concerts in Chene Park.
Shelley: Oh yeah! Chene Park, that was amazing. I saw Three Dog Night at Chene Park.
Kurt: I love going to concerts at the Fillmore and also St. Andrew’s. St. Andrew’s is probably my favorite venue, but the Fillmore is probably a little cooler. I love the State Bar.
Shelley: I love going to the Opera House, I saw Elf at the Opera House. Our favorite party is Bravo Bravo; it’s the coolest party I’ve ever been to. They put a floor over all the seats so it’s level with the stage, and they have a dance floor, bars, it’s awesome. I’ll never turn down tickets to any kind of live performance.
Kurt: We love doing the cultural stuff downtown, there’s too many to name. A good night out for me is the Fillmore.
Shelley: I love Park Bar and Bucharest, SkyBar.
Core Detroit: Lafayette or American?
Both (in unison): Lafayette.
Core Detroit: What’s one thing Detroit needs?
Shelley: It definitely needs retail. There’s so many things.
Kurt: For downtown Detroit – residential. Continued expansion of retail and residential areas in downtown. It needs to keep the excitement going; it needs a better rap too. In the neighborhoods, they needs streetlights and police.
Shelley: One of the things I do miss, when we first moved into this building there was a Borders bookstore, Hallmark, a couple boutiques and gift stores. You could do all your Christmas shopping, or you could run out and get a gift – so that people don’t have to drive to the suburbs. But you’re right about keeping the momentum going.
Core Detroit: What question were you hoping I’d ask?
Kurt: Do we print money? (laughs)
Core Detroit: That’s hilarious! I’m kinda upset that I didn’t ask that.
Shelley: If we printed money we’d have been out of here the first day (laughs).
Core Detroit: Are you hopeful about Detroit’s future?
Shelley: Absolutely! Or we would not still be here. We would not have made the investments we’ve made in the last few years if we weren’t hopeful about the future. This is a very expensive business to be in; you have to keep up with technology, and the equipment is all top of the line. We never really lost hope, we just hung in there. There were a couple years where is was like, what are we doing here?
Kurt: The year after we moved in, GM went bankrupt.
Shelley: There was a time where downtown was a tough go, and we had considered moving to an industrial park or merging with a suburban printer, but we liked downtown so much we didn’t want to do it, and we stuck in there and we’re so happy that we did.
For more information about Allegra Print Signs & Marketing, please visit www.allegradetroit.com or call (313) 963.3600.