If you've never been inside our storefront in Charleston, WV, you might not know that we share a space with some friends who make letterpress prints, Base Camp Printing Company. The shop is co-owned by two sisters, Betsy and Emily, who design and print everything themselves on-site, from posters to custom invitations. Walk into Base Camp and you'll be faced with dozens of bold and bright posters hanging on their brick walls and cataloged in wooden shelves, plus cards, calendars, and even unique finds like customizable banners.
Most days, you'll hear the roll of their press in the background while you shop and catch a glimpse of their printing process. The two even offer monthly letterpress workshops, where a few students can learn the craft and design their own custom print.
Emily and Betsy had an idea and brought it to life, and their growth is apparent every day. As their two-year anniversary approaches, we sat down with the sisters to reflect on the past two years and chat about what they're looking forward to in the future.
KSG: What’s the most memorable project you’ve had over the past two years?
BC: There are so many at this point and each one is completely different. We don’t work from templates, so each design is entirely custom. At the top of the list are all of the posters and work we’ve gotten to do with West Virginia businesses like Mountain Stage Radio Show. Not only do we get to create something unique and special to them, but we get to know the people behind the business and the relationships that we have formed last longer than the projects.
KSG: What’s it like to be business partners as sisters?
BC: It’s a unique situation. We work together and live together, so we basically spend every waking moment together, but we somehow aren’t sick of each other yet. The great thing about being sisters is we know each other really well and are comfortable working as a team. We’re bound to get in arguments now and then, but Betsy ends ups saying or doing something ridiculous that makes us both laugh and forget why we were mad. Working together never really feels like work. We’re good at keeping each other positive.
KSG: What advice do you have for someone interested in starting a business as an artist?
BC: Just do it. But don’t do it alone. What we mean by that is that, for us, the best way we’ve learned and gotten better is trial and error. We definitely don’t know everything about running a business, but we’re learning as we go. And we also have a great community of people around us to give us advice and support us, so we don’t feel like we are tackling this giant obstacle on our own. Find your people and lift each other up.
KSG: What’s it like to start a business in your hometown?
BC: It has been really great! The support from the community has been amazing. And it’s really nice to have family and friends that we’ve grown up with stop by to see the business that we built and are so proud of. Also, a surprising number of retired printers come in to donate type and equipment.
We each spent some time after college in other places (Betsy went to the D.C. area and Emily went to Nashville), but after about a year, we found ourselves missing the community and landscape of West Virginia and decided to come back home to our Base Camp.
On May 12th, Base Camp Printing Co. are celebrating their second anniversary! They'll be open all day with prints on sale and scratch-off giveaways. Then, after-hours they're hosting a screening of PressingOn: The Letterpress Film in our print shop. It's a beautifully shot documentary about letterpress shops across the country who are working hard to keep the craft alive. Before the film, they'll have a reception with snacks, a piñata, and interactive printing demos!
You can get tickets to the film here.