“This is a passion project that just kind of spiraled out of control. But it just sort of happened organically,” Lisa Conrad, owner and creator of Newark Print Shop said.
Conrad founded the business in 2012 with a thrown-out Newark Museum etching press above a fried chicken restaurant downtown. Determined to share and leave an impression, she opened Wednesday nights and simply asked for donations. Within a year, a fire forced her to move and create another studio on University Avenue.
“I almost would say like it was the speakeasy of printmaking. It was like this secret little hidden gem. It was kind of like VIP. If you found out about it you were like kind of on the inside of that knowledge, right?” she expressed.
Conrad recalls passing the dilapidated Hahne & Co. building a few years ago and being repulsed by the smell of mold. But, this past February, she began running a business there that seems like gold to the growing list of club members in the middle of the week. She launched the print club five years ago. For $10 every Wednesday, artists and non-artists can try their hand at being artistic.
“I love working along the creative energy of other people and I wanted to make a space like that. Printing can be expensive and inaccessible. But its history is print is for the people,” she added.
Conrad says for $10 dollars, members get paper and ink, and access to silk screens and equipment. The shop sells tee shirts and tote bags, if members don’t bring their own. On any given Wednesday, you can find a full staff of volunteers, interns, and artists in residence coaching and advising. The air is filled with the energy and enthusiasm of entrepreneurship.
Kimberly Mendoza designs menswear and tee shirts for her business, Arevalo && Company. She is delighted to find the services at an affordable price. Actor Alonzo Blaylock agreed as he printed shirts for a Brooklyn event and sale. He explained the concept of ‘a un-owned Negro.’
“It was not about slavery, but freedom to speak freely and have own thoughts and express them,” said Blaylock.
Levere Terry praised his printing prowess on his second visit and the outcome of his design for the House of God Church in Orange. Terry said the space is, “a hub for artists, get a lot done, a blessing in a way.”
Conrad mentored Nelsy Baro at Arts High School. Baro, a PR representative who takes inspiration from the shop back to the startup clothing and lifestyle company, Brown Mill, is a regular on Wednesday nights. She says printing has become her favorite medium. Conrad does some advertising, but much of it is the result of word of mouth, of men, women and children coming from all over the area. Some come, not to print, but to network and find out about upcoming events. Others painstakingly place pride in their efforts and proudly show off their printed products and show it by dancing.
Wednesday nights, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., are growing in popularity. Jermaine Hunt, who’s developing his own company called SIP or Super Intelligent People, found out just how popular. He said, “Want to get in got to be here on time because it’s always, always busy.”
When asked what that says about downtown Newark and the space, he replied, “Newark, New Jersey or downtown is really thinking about the artists and being specific about it.”
And so is Lisa Conrad’s Newark Print Shop – not earning a profit on Wednesday nights, but earning a reputation as an unrivaled space for creation and for cheap.