Johnny's Ideal

Johnny Brodowski was born in Hudson, New York. He collected stamps as a boy and exchanged those stamps with collectors all over the world. Although he had friends in town who also collected stamps, there were bully types, too, who thought stamp collecting was for “sissies.” Johnny was inventive. When he got new stamps, he’d head over to his buddy’s house, but first he’d conceal the stamps by stuffing them down inside his shirt.

When it was revealed that Franklin Roosevelt was an avid stamp collector, the trade was elevated in status, after all the President of the United States was certainly no sissy.

Still a teenager, Johnny started his own business, importing and wholesaling stamps. His natural curiosity for stamps lead to an interest in printing. At fifteen he acquired a small Multigraph printer (similar to the one shown here) and began printing small jobs for his stamp collecting friends. Then came World War II.

4th Division Sergeant Johnny Brodowski landed on Utah Beach on D-Day, 1944. He was in charge of a squad of fifteen men, a machine gun unit. As we talk fifty-nine years later Johnny repeatedly refers to these men as, “My boys.” When his squad came under severe artillery attack in the Hershkin Forest, although wounded himself, he told the medics, “Take care of my boys first, then come back for me and don’t forget.” They forgot. Darkness fell, using his machine gun and a stick as short makeshift crutches, Johnny eventually dragged himself to a ridge overlooking his company’s position. He hollered down to them. Wary it might be a trap; they sent a squad to circle around. They discovered the seriously wounded G.I. and carried him to safety.

Johnny recuperated at a hospital in England, then was sent back to head up his squad. He returned home in October of 1945 proud, “I never lost one of my boys.”

Stateside, Johnny got married just before his discharge was final then returned to Hudson. He took a job in the print shop at the Match Factory and enthusiastically devoured all aspects of the printing business. Johnny and his wife had a small apartment so when he bought a printing press the only place to put it was in the kitchen, the type drawers wound up in the dining room. The inventive, entrepreneurial side of Johnny set to work and in the evenings he developed a mail order business printing envelopes and forms for stamp collectors and dealers. Soon he moved to the 2:30 to 11:00 shift so he had more time to devote to his business.

Johnny leans back in his chair and brings his fists together under his chin, elbows out. He takes a deep breath and smiles, reliving a pivotal moment; the day he told his wife he was quitting his job to create his own business. His co-workers told him he was crazy to risk giving up such a good regular job, but Johnny had a passion, a dream. “I figured I better do something and do it right,” he says.

Johnny and his wife bought a house, then a trustworthy Original Heidelberg printing press and put it in the basement. There were six other print shops in town at the time. When he bought the Heidelberg the other printers said, “What are you a Nazi sympathizer?” Johnny just shakes his head, “It was hard to believe they could say that after I risked my life over there.”

Johnny worked hard printing in his cold basement. He shoveled snow and did any other odd job that paid the bills but his business grew. Soon he moved into a storefront on Columbia Street. He bought more equipment and began bringing in business from outside the area, “I became a printer’s printer.”

I ask Johnny what year he started and he shakes his head, “I don’t know. I don’t think too much about the past. The past is the past you can’t change it and the future, we can’t control that, nope, I prefer to live right now. That’s all we really have.”

In the sixties Davis printing was selling out and Mr. Davis offered the place to Johnny. He bought it and moved Johnny’s Ideal Printing to Warren Street where is remains today.

Johnny’s is very much a family business, refreshing in this world of conglomerates, corporate takeovers and big box operations. Johnny’s son Tom has worked in the print shop since he was eight years old and has become the bridge into the computer age. Betty, Paul, Willie, Tony, Joanne and many others now gone worked there for more years than anyone can remember. Why? It’s a good place to work.

Like his squad of G.I.’s, Johnny respects his employees, “I take risk, but I couldn’t do it without my people.”

Johnny is a responsible man; faith and character his guides. He could easily have retired years ago, but his work is his love, his family.

I ask Johnny if he has any advice on the endurance of business success. He smiles and says, “Three words, make a decision.”

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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