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Changing times force longtime firm to change address

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A new era: John Fleming says Mitchell-Fleming Printing no longer needs the large space it has occupied on Osage Street for generations. The firm is moving to Knightstown. (Janet Helms/Daily Reporter)
A new era: John Fleming says Mitchell-Fleming Printing no longer needs the large space it has occupied on Osage Street for generations. The firm is moving to Knightstown. (Janet Helms/Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — It is doubtful any other business can boast having a storefront here, under the same basic name, since before the Civil War. Such is the importance of the printed word to any modern society. And such has been Mitchell-Fleming Printing’s importance to Greenfield.

The company’s 143 years of continued existence is a testament to its ability to grow and change with the times, which it is doing once again, only for the first time without a local storefront.

Mitchell-Fleming as of this week has reorganized as Mitchell-Fleming Printing LLC and has moved its operation 10 miles west to Knightstown. Principal interest in the company was purchased by MidCountry Media Inc. of Knightstown.

Third-generation Mitchell-Fleming owner John Fleming, 53, now owns a minority share of the company, which will continue business as usual, but now from 36 N. Washington St. in Knights-town.

Fleming emphasizes the change will be virtually unnoticeable for the company’s many longtime clients because most business is conducted these days via the company’s website. In fact, the company will be able to offer its clients improved services due to access to some of MidCountry’s more modern equipment, he said.

The company’s business consists mostly of books and catalogs, many self-published, like Gary Donna’s Hoosier Basketball Magazine.

“We also have a lot of non-profit organizations, a lot of Masonic work. We also do wholesale work for the printing trade,” said Fleming.

The last thing Fleming wants to do is worry clients about this transition. Many have done decades of business with Mitchell-Fleming, and that’s because customer service is of paramount importance.

“I just did a quote for a customer we’ve had since 1921. So yeah, we try not to mess it up so they come back when they have another project to do. If you do have a problem, it’s how you fix it, so they end up happy.”

Digital equipment is for the most part smaller and faster, so there is no longer a need for the company to stay in its city block-sized building at 420 W. Osage St. that currently houses the office, printing and warehouse operations. The company needed to cut overhead to keep serving its clientele.

“It’s a new chapter of the company,” Fleming said. “We have to evolve or be gone. Many printing companies are gone. MidCountry has been good to work with, and I think we’ll complement each other very well.”

That is primarily because MidCountry, formerly Mayhill Publications, is a second-generation family publishing business started by Tom and Peg Mayhill in the 1940s with the purchase of the Knightstown newspaper.

William Mitchell’s business was founded in 1859 with the Hancock County Democrat, precursor of the Daily Reporter.

The Mayhills’ son-in-law and daughter, Gary and Merry Thoe, are now president and vice president, respectively, of MidCountry, which owns and publishes FarmWorld, AntiqueWeek and Auction Exchange and Collectors News.

John Fleming is the third generation of Flemings to own the local company.

“We’ve known them for a lot of years,” Gary Thoe said of the Mitchell-Fleming business. “In fact, the first offset press we bought in 1985 we bought from them, and Roger (Fleming) helped us set it up.”

Mitchell-Fleming has continued to do printing work for its Knightstown counterpart, Thoe said. When the Flemings broached the idea with him about combining operations, Thoe, too, felt they would be a good fit.

“They’re a really good printing company, and with our sales connections to antique and farm publications, it made sense. We’re happy to continue the tradition and hopefully we can bring in with our contracts more printing business. They have a nice basket of customers already. So really, same company, different show.”

Fleming has been busy this week setting up new digital equipment in the office on Knightstown’s town square. The bindery and saddle stitching operations have relocated to MidCountry’s large press facility just east of Knightstown off U.S. 40.

Fleming said at the moment he has two sets of equipment. That will ensure no down time for customers during the transition. Eventually, the Greenfield building and equipment will be sold.

He will take five of his nine employees with him to Knightstown. Having to leave the others behind is “gut-wrenching,” he said.

John, a 1976 graduate of Greenfield-Central High School, joined the company full time in 1978 alongside his dad, Roger, and Roger’s brothers, Rodney and Douglas. He assumed full-time duties after Rodney took office as Greenfield mayor in 2000.

John’s grandfather, Darold, bought the business in 1954 after it had been operated by three generations of Mitchells.

Rodney and Douglas have sold their remaining interest in the company, John said.

Rodney is circumspect about the changes being made in the company.

“Some older people around here remember both the Mitchells and the Flemings,” he said. “But I guess change is inevitable. I’ve watched the print business change during the last 20 years. Now we’ll have an office in Knightstown, but we’ll do much of the same work.”

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