Friday, September 3, 2010

No Press Checks: Printer's Alley

Entrance to Printer's Alley
On the popular Travel Channel show No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain explores the globe in seek of food that defines the culinary habits and culture of people living in foreign countries throughout the world. As a viewer, this show offers a fresh look at the real way that others eat and live their lives.

Within the spirit of No Reservations and in the mind of a Printchef, I want to take you on a journey that explores the remarkable way that printing has put a unique stamp on cities and countries throughout the world. When you see a post appropriately titled No Press Checks, be prepared to be dipped into the printing culture of unfamiliar territories.

All trips start from home, so my first No Press Checks occurs right here in Nashville, TN in the famous Printer's Alley. Printer's Alley, located between Third and Fourth Avenues just off Church Street in downtown Nashville, was founded in the 1800's as a mecca for the printing and publishing industry. If not for country music, many might have considered Nashville the Printing Capital of the World (History of Printer's Alley). Around the turn of the 20th century, Printer's Alley was home to two large newspapers, ten print shops and thirteen publishers (Wikipedia).

So what exactly happened to Nashville's home of printing and publishing? Well it turns out all those printers had a dark side too as saloons, gambling halls and speakeasies sprouted up all over the district.  Judges, lawyers and politicians joined the crowd also and quickly the area became the center of the city's nightlife. I can only imagine what a press check might have looked like in 1910. It gives new meaning to Mad Men's Don Draper when he conveniently tells his secretary he's "at the printer" when he needs a cover to get away for dirty deeds.

Printer's Alley of today
Today, the only traces left of printing in the alley would be the glow of neon signs inviting you into the various bars, karaoke saloons and adult entertainment clubs. While Nashville is still one of the major U.S. market's for printing and publishing, you won't be headed to a press check anytime soon in Printer's Alley as the area is no bigger than some of the large web-presses that you'll find in modern printing. However, with the rise of digital printing, a glimmer of hope still resides that this once again could become Nashville's home of printing.

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