By Paul Thompson
April 5, 2017
KANSAS CITY, Missouri – Terry Cunningham was fresh out of high school in 1971 when her father, Chester Banks, suffered a massive coronary. Chester was told by doctors that he could no longer work, and Terry figured he would be forced to close Adco Litho Plate, Inc., the print shop he ran at 6043 E. Truman Road. Chester, though, had other ideas: he wanted Terry and her mother Paulette to take over the shop.
“I owe too many people too much money,” Terry remembers her father saying. “I’m not going to take bankruptcy. You girls are going to run it.”
As young as Terry was at the time, she was no novice in the print industry. She had been working in the shop after school and during the summers since she was around 14 years old, just another in a long list of activities she and her sister had enjoyed with their father. Despite her youth, Terry’s father had faith that she could take over the business.
“My dad didn’t have any sons, so we did everything that he would do with a boy,” said Cunningham. “We learned how to shoot a bow and arrow, learned how to shoot a gun, we went fishing, he taught us how to play baseball, football, basketball; he was a man before his time, actually. He always said, ‘You can do whatever you think you can do.’”
Her father’s confidence steeled Cunningham and her mother for the task, and they ended up succeeding with the business – working together side-by-side for decades. Paulette lived to be 92 years old, and she worked at Adco Litho Plate, Inc. until she was 80. Cunningham described the relationship as wonderful, and said that business was booming for much of the time, as well.
“During the 70s and 80s and most of the 90s, we were a pretty good little company,” said Cunningham. “We did gangbusters.”
In the early years, the process of printing was relatively grueling. Cunningham still remembers the process in great detail, as if it’s seared into her memory. It required great patience, and attention to detail was needed at every step along the way. Cunningham remembers using X-Acto knives to carve out blocks of color, and a multi-phased process that would take hours upon hours to complete.
“I would think, from start to finish, it was probably 8-9 hours to go to press,” remembers Cunningham. “It was very time-consuming.”
The digital age helped speed up the process, but of course there were pitfalls. New programs were created that made the design process faster for Cunningham, but they also made it faster for the rest of the general public. New equipment was expensive; Cunningham noted that she would have had to spend as much as $500,000 to keep up with the cutting-edge technology and transfer to a digital operation when the equipment was new. At times, Cunningham has struggled to keep up with the rapidly changing industry.
“You can do so much in Illustrator that you can create, and it’s so much easier than sitting down and drawing each color,” says Cunningham. “This has made it so much easier, but they were very hard for me to learn. Every time Illustrator updates, it messes me up.”
Cunningham persisted, and as one of the few women-owned printing businesses in the area, she’s been able to keep the shop open for its 50th year in 2017.
“I think sometimes that I’m the best-kept secret in the Northeast,” Cunningham said with a laugh. “I still print letterheads, business cards, envelopes; we’re still a full-service commercial printer.”
After 50 years, Cunningham has begun looking towards retirement. Now 63 years old, she says with a grin that she deserves to go out soon. Due to a variety of medical issues, Cunningham has already been forced to reduce her hours. She’d like to make time for family and hobbies.
“I love my grandson, and I’d really like to take painting classes,” she says.
For now, though, Cunningham will keep the shop open. She prides herself on being a fair businesswoman, and welcomes the opportunity to bid for work. In fact, Cunningham says that her bids tend to be considerably lower than her rivals.
“My honesty is a problem,” Cunningham says with a laugh.
Adco Litho Plate, Inc. is open from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Visit the office in person at 6043 E. Truman Rd., or give Cunningham a call at (816) 241-2754.