After falling on hard times since the economic recession and with a new owner planning to redevelop the property at East Blithedale and Sycamore avenues, Dave Semling is closing his shop.
On October 1, the nearly 4,500-square-foot space at 250 East Blithedale Ave. won’t house a printing shop for the first time in nearly 35 years. 

Mill Valley Services, the print shop owned by Lagunitas resident Dave Semling for the past 25 years, and the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year in 1998 – is shutting down on Tuesday, September 30. The space was home to Mill Valley Printing for nearly a decade before Semling bought it after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

“It was a business that was just too far under water,” Semling says of the reason to shut down. “We’ve had an unbelievably great run here for the first 20 years. We have been so fortunate here in this community – we’ve worked with some of the greatest people you could possibly wish for.”

The property at the corner of East Blithedale and Sycamore avenues, which also includes Tony Tutto Pizza and a warehouse leased by SummerHouse, was sold in 2013 to San Francisco-based Worldco Company, a real estate firm run by Tony and Alvin Chan. Through MacCracken Architects, the new owners have proposed to redevelop the property, demolishing the 1,000-square-foot building that houses Tony Tutto Pizza and remodeling the 9,300-square-foot structure that contains Mill Valley Services and the SummerHouse space. 

The Planning Commission held study sessions on the proposal in November 2013 and again in March 2014. It is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposal in the coming months.

Semling says Mill Valley Services had been struggling financially for many years, first with the economic recession that began in 2008, which saw his business dip by at least 25 percent.

And then the rapid pace at which the printing business has been changing over the past decade made it difficult to take advantage of the economic recovery that followed, Semling says. He says he spent more than $1 million on digital printing equipment over the past five years, taking out lines of credit and using credit cards in the hopes that the business could survive. “But we just kept losing money,” he says.

The industry’s technological changes have made it such that a business like his could buy the latest innovative printing equipment and see it become nearly obsolete just a few years later.

Couple that with national Internet-based competitors who can easily compete on price with local and regional independent businesses like his, and Semling says he was looking at a Sisyphean task.

He’s spent the past few weeks readying the transition, helping his nine employees figure out their next steps and having digital files transferred to Strahm Communications in San Rafael, a larger outfit that has already brought on one Semling’s employees.

“The printing businesses that are becoming something to everybody – those are the ones that will survive,” Semling says.

In addition to smoothing the transition as much as possible for employees and his longtime clients, the 75-year-old Semling has been planning for the next chapter of life with his wife Janet. They have to sell their home in Lagunitas in order to pay for their retirement.

“We have less objects around us, but our family is very close, so we’ll be fine,” Semling says, noting that two of his three daughters live in the area.


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