Stouts take pride in family business that's been running for 45 years

Bunkhouse beginnings: The story of Stout Printing begins with H.H. "Shorty" Stout, Lexington's own singing cowboy and star of local TV and radio shows in the late 1950s and early '60s.

Yo-de-lay-he-who? When he wasn't crooning about the open range or spinning tunes as an early morning DJ, Shorty "daylighted" in advertising, passing out handbills door to door, with the unflagging assistance of his 10 offspring. It wasn't long before Shorty's handbill business became a mailing business, and addressograph machines took over the family basement. Then, in 1964, Shorty went to the bank and, with his good name as collateral, took out a $7,500 loan. He rented a storefront on Short Street and officially opened Stout Instant Printing and Mailing Service.

Speed up the press: Forty-five years later, Stout Printing has a shorter name and its own building on Spring Street. Shorty's sons Roy, Jerry and Steve are joint owners. Of the 10 kids, "everybody but Jimmy" has been involved, says Jerry, but "Roy is the man. He's the one who built up the business." Roy is the designer and creative force; Jerry, with his business degree "is the brains of the business," says Roy.

"Man, that's scary," pipes in paper salesman Keith Grizz with a grin; he's been dropping by the business for more than 30 years.

Seven-year itch: Shorty Stout, who died in 1996, had a fear of commitment and a habit of taking out five-year leases with two-year options. So every seven years, the Stouts would pick up and move shop. In 1971, when Roy took over most of the business, they moved into the former Hubbard & Curry pharmacy, a site that gave them a front-row seat to the action at Short and Lime Liquors across the way. "It opened at 6 a.m. and was the first place to get the Racing Form in the morning," says Roy. The old Lexington jail loomed behind them; Roy got used to the inmates' calling through the bars as he stepped outside to sip a sarsaparilla. "Hey! Give us some of that!"

Rolling, rolling, rolling: Next came Water Street, where they shared a building with Schumacher's Art Supplies. The years there were productive ones: Roy built up the business and incorporated new technology. A man named Dick Gladstone "taught me a whole lot." Gladstone, owner of Young Printing, was shorter than Shorty and "had a Virginia drawl that wouldn't quit." He also had equipment and expertise and offered them both to Roy.

The location "resinated" with them: Another seven years and it was on to Walnut Street. No sooner had they printed the stationery with their new address than the city changed the street's name to Martin Luther King Boulevard. Headquarters there was a building that had been a Coca-Cola plant and tobacco warehouse. "The wood floor was soaked with tobacco resin and Coca-Cola syrup," says Roy. They pulled it all up and poured a new concrete base. Seven years later, they moved one last time, to Spring Street, and in 1994 they took out a mortgage on the property.

How a print shop is like a bakery: It's the aroma that hits you when you enter. Roy says people either react with: "God, how can you stand it?" or inhale deeply: "Boy, that brings back memories!" The ink smell lingers over decades that have seen huge changes in the business. When Roy started out, "I used to get hot type set at ABC Type, on a linotype machine." Over the years he taught himself typesetting, paste-up, layout and all the other advances leading to the InDesign computer software he now relies on.

Poster operative: Technology hasn't just changed the way the Stouts print things; it also has changed what they print. Once upon a time, Roy was "the forms king," he says. But because many mundane jobs like invoices and receipts are now handled by copy machines, and people print their own résumés, Stout Printing focuses more on posters, brochures, business cards, invitations, even books. Roy brings out Gatewood Galbraith's The Last Free Man in America, which Roy designed and laid out. Earlier that morning, former state Sen. Joe Graves dropped in to check on the progress of a book he has written.

True to type: Jerry will tell you that Roy's the artist, and there's plenty of evidence of his skills with a pen around the shop. But Roy says he wants to be known as a printer, like his hero, Ben Franklin. It's an honorable occupation, after all, one that has advanced literacy, freedom, — not to mention the dissemination of sheet music for (How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window? a classic once sung by Shorty with Roy providing the "arf arfs."

Yippie-yi-yay: 2009 is not only the company's 45th anniversary; it's also the year the Stout brothers make that last payment and own their Spring Street property free and clear. Jerry says their dad, the man with the seven-year lease on life, used to boast, "My sons took a hamburger joint and turned it into a steakhouse." Soon the sons of the singing cowboy will gather round the campfire and feast on filet mignon and the printed word — their 15-year mortgage note will be cooked the way they like it — well-done.

Reach Vicky Broadus at (859) 231-3516 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3516.