By Seth Daniel
For the Transcript
In the coming City Election season this year, there will be one major player sitting out this time around.
It’s not a candidate or an incumbent office holder, but rather a place that most all of them go – Art-Tone Studios on Beach Street in Revere.
For the past 50 years, the tiny screen-printing studio has been the place to go to get bumper stickers and political signs for politicians from Winthrop to Revere to Everett and beyond.
They’ve done work for mayors, city councillors and School Committee members throughout the area. Most bumper stickers and political signs in this area bear the Art-Tone mark.
This election season, though, they’ve shut down the presses, turned off the cutter and hung up their aprons – closing down this week after 50 years of continuous operation.
Owner Lenny Morabito and former co-owner Leo St. Pierre told the Transcript that the shop will close due to an illness in Morabito’s family and an overall tough economy.
“It was getting tougher and tougher, and with my wife being ill, I knew in my heart I couldn’t make it this year, it being a City Election year,” said Morabito. “So, I thought the best interest of the business was keeping it intact and selling it to someone who could run it. For us, it’s a sea of memories in there.”
Added St. Pierre, “We were kids when we started. It’s been all our lives pretty much.”
Morabito indicated that the business name ‘Art-Tone Studios’ has been sold to Northrup Printing in Revere. However, the old building on Beach Street will no longer be a print shop.
“As of [last Friday], the shop has been sold and I believe the people are going to make it into a groceria,” said Morabito. “That will be weird for people. There will be that ‘Wow’ factor. There will be politicians who pop in out of the blue looking to order bumper stickers and they’ll wonder if they’re in the right place.”
Both said that they were encouraged that the name would stay and that it would stay local.
Though it was a business, it was the spirit of the owners that brought customers to the shop over and over. They were famous for keeping a wall of bumper stickers on the inside office and their outside window – a wall that would become more of a museum of local political history than anything else.
“We did all of House Speaker Bob DeLeo’s work as he moved his way up,” Morabito said. “He always came in the shop – came himself. He liked to come in because he said he liked to look around at the old stickers. Kathi Reinstein (of Revere) said the same thing. She came in for her final order last month and said the shop was like taking a step back in time.”
And the politics did run deep in the shop, past and present.
“The politicians would stop in and ask, ‘What did you guys hear?’ or ‘What are people saying to you guys?’” said St. Pierre. “Everyone would stop in and talk politics with us. Everyone wanted to know what everyone else was doing. It wasn’t just Revere though; it was Everett, Winthrop and Chelsea too. In the end, we probably didn’t know any more than they did, but they thought we had some insider info.”
Added Morabito, “I can’t tell you how many five-minute pickups turned into 35-minute talks about the political landscape.”
Morabito said that the shop’s downfall began in 2006, when a rough business landscape forced St. Pierre to withdraw from the business and work part-time.
Morabito got through the next few years on his own, but his family took a major turn when his wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2009.
Before that decline, however, the print shop was the place to go if you were running for office.
Art-Tone was founded in 1960 by Tony Avellino and Arthur DiIngenzio (hence the name ‘Art-Tone’). St. Pierre was Avellino’s nephew, and Morabito was assigned to the shop through a Revere High School work program.
Both started working for Avellino when they were only 15, and continued to learn the trade from him for many years. They both said they grew up in the shop, learned how to be men, and built a life-long friendship.
In 1974, Avellino sold them the business and they steadily grew their client base to encompass politicians and political committees from Revere, Lynn, Chelsea, Everett, Winthrop and Medford. They also did quite a lot of subcontracting work as well – allowing them to work for print brokers in Boston and beyond.
Much of their machinery was antique – time worn but reliable. Up to last week, they still used an industrial paper cutter made in 1915 that – had it not been disassembled for removal – would probably still be working well into 2015.
Typically, Morabito did the printing, and St. Pierre designed the artwork and concentrated on customer relations.
Most everyone who did business with them grew to enjoy making a business trip to the shop.
“That’s the one thing that will live on beyond us,” said Morabito. “I think our reputation with our client base was great. No one ever said a bad word, or at least not to us.”
Though they had a great run, both said that they probably did make a mistake in not investing in new technology about 10 years ago – specifically a new ultraviolet light system that quickens drying times.
“If we were 25 years younger we would switch to that UV technology,” said Morabito. “One mistake we probably made was we didn’t pursue that several years ago. We had the opportunity about 15 years ago, but it would have meant gutting the shop.”
Even so, no one can ever say Art-Tone didn’t get the job done.
“We always got the jobs done,” said Morabito.
“One way or another,” added St. Pierre.