“Woody Allen?” I asked. “Seriously?”
“Seriously,” he replied.
Steve Barnard, the 58-year-old owner of A Street Print and Parcel calls Woody Allen his hero. And Steve’s not even from Woody’s bailiwick, Brooklyn, my “old country.” Or part of the ancient tribe of Perpetual Angst that Woody and I have in common. More on that later.
Besides, that’s not what got me interested in Steve. I interviewed him because the air inside his shop is scented with gratitude. With every breath, the man exhales thanksgiving, through every pore, appreciation, for the gifts of his children, his business, and his health. (He’s had a remarkable recovery from hepatitis C.) And he’s grateful too for the opportunity he’s seized with great gusto to give back to his community. Scanning the children’s art work Steve displays on all the walls of the shop, I began to get the picture.
“When I was a little kid growing up in Portland, all I wanted to do was to draw cartoons,” says Steve. “But that didn’t work. My father thought I ought to be an accountant.” In fact, his Dad wouldn’t let him take art classes in school if they involved drawing, because “he thought it would be too easy for me.”
Having had his own artistic spark stifled, Steve leaped at the chance to display the art of a girlfriend’s preschool grandson. That was in 2009, two months after opening the shop. But Steve didn’t merely tack the paintings up, he opened up for the First Friday Art Walks, serving cookies and punch and “dragging people off the street.”
Of course, one child’s art hardly filled the walls, so Steve started posting art created by children at the YMCA and Head Start. And that soon morphed into a formal organization, Project Art Kids and Steve’s sponsorship of a children’s workshop on a Saturday morning each month at the Ashland Arts Center, “where kids of any age can just come in and draw and paint.” The youngest artist has been 15 months. No surprise: One of the workshops was on cartooning. Project Art Kids has partnered with the Multi-Cultural Association of Southern Oregon, to attract tax-deductible donations.
“I’m a happy guy,” says Steve. “I love being busy, I love working and I love making a difference.”
Yeah, but what about Woody Allen?
To answer, Steve tracks back to his childhood in Portland as “a little guy always being pushed around,” and to his time in high school. Talk about stress: By his senior year, he’d already taken on the responsibility of having “a wife, a baby, an apartment and a car,” along with a first job selling shoes.
“So I wound up identifying with Woody Allen and the neuroses that drove him. I learned the word anxiety and realized that what was driving me.” The realization came as a relief. Just knowing he wasn’t the only one wrestling with these sorts of demons gave Steve comfort. “I felt a bond with him.”
From magazine articles Steve learned that Allen, to deal with his panic, “paid a psychiatrist $150 an hour to be his best friend.” Not having that kind of money, Steve says he simply “learned to duck and dodge” the moments of panic, relying over the years on his self-deprecating sense of humor, along with an organic, vegetarian, gluten-free diet that works better than the mind-numbing drugs he’d once been prescribed. More than anything though, what’s worked best for Steve has been keeping busy.
A self-described “workaholic,” he’s always put in long hours. In fact, he says, “The three years I’ve owned the business seem like one long day in which I just kept changing my clothes.”
As for the success of his business, Steve expresses gratitude for “a lifetime of dead-end jobs” which he picked up the absolutely perfect amalgam of applicable skills to run a shop specializing in both shipping and printing. For a Portland printing company, he drove a delivery truck, worked in shipping and receiving and learned to feed the presses. On his own, he segued to specialty hand bindery work. And later, in Ashland, as a single guy raising three school-age kids, he complemented a “career” as a cable sales and installation “guy,” by driving a truck for Federal Express during the pre-Christmas rush.
That’s when he acted quickly on a “vision” to fill a niche as the only authorized Fed-Ex ground shipping venue in this part of town. Breaking the piggy bank and “hocking” his car title for a couple of hundred dollars—while ignoring warnings that a recession wasn’t the right time to give up the day job—he bought a computer, a label printer and shipping software and leased the back room from the owner of the A Street Copy Shop. A few years later, he bought out the owner of the copy shop and added printing and graphics design to his offerings.
Business has been increasingly good for Steve—“When shipping’s down, printing’s up; when printing’s down, shipping’s up, but mostly they’re both up”—and for that he’s grateful. “My strategy’s simple. I show up every day and open the door. And every day, it seems, people come in and say, ‘I’m so glad you’re here.’”
and thanks in advance for introducing me to the people you care about who are considering buying–or selling–a home in Ashland and Southern Oregon! Just pick up your phone and give me a call so we can figure out how you can best make that introduction: 541-778-8949