Letter from the Publisher, August 2012 – Reposted with updates, May 2013
By Lisa Ann Krutzik
It seems like a long time ago when I first started thinking about starting a photography business. The decision to photograph weddings came rather quickly, but then began the longer task of choosing products I would offer my clients. I wasn’t as conscious then about buying American made products as I am now, but I believe it was my natural instinct.
It was in the early 1990’s when I discovered a Chicago-based album company called General Products. I saw an ad in a magazine, called the 800 number, and got a packet of information via the mail. Within hours of receiving the package, I was back on the phone ordering my first proof books which were completely ‘Made in America.’
Over the years I would come to know a couple of familiar voices at General Products; particularly Mary. One year, I knew I’d be driving back to Wisconsin for the holidays. I decided to stop in Chicago and pick up an album I had ordered. I remember hearing the surprise in Mary’s voice when she realized I was driving all the way to Chicago from New York to actually pick up the package!
This was long before I had a GPS, though I was equipped with a cell phone. I arrived in Chicago a bit later than planned and hit bad traffic. Since it was December, it was pitch dark at 5pm. At night, Chicago, like any big city, is wickedly intimidating. Mary talked me through each exit, then each street, and into the manufacturing district. I parked in front of a massive brick building and entered through a glass door to find a tall staircase which ascended to the customer service department. There were hugs, smiles, and ‘oh my goodness, you look just like I had imagined you would!’ moments. (Yes, this was before social networking and websites with images had evolved.)
Over the next 20 years, there would be numerous times I would see or talk with Ron and Mary. I had the pleasure of going on a personalized factory tour about 15 years later. Here I was shown how they constructed the ‘Little Black Books’ I used. I met the women who physically hand constructed the album pages, the man who cut the mats (today he binds the digital books); I discussed the process for producing the new digital products with the people creating them. I left with an understanding that with every wedding album, baby book, love story, and every ‘Little Black Book’ I produced helped keep these people employed. It put dinner on their tables and kept an American factory in production.
On April 18, 2012 Ron died. He was 73. He had taken over the family business, started in 1934, during the season of 1983 and had “retired” and in 2001 his three children: Vic, Anne, and Ray took charge of daily operations. Ron still came to the office almost every day and answered the phone more than once when I’d call after hours or on the weekend. He always knew who I was and often made reference to that crazy night I drove all the way from New York just to pick up an album!
The industry lost an icon when Ron passed away. I learned Mary, who I had been specifically asking for all these years, didn’t just lose a boss—she lost a loving husband of 48 years.
I currently live in a state where some people seem to believe our economic state of affairs has been caused by one man sitting in a Madison office. He has been governor for less than 2 years. I’m not making a political statement, but I am going to say I don’t believe any politician has anywhere near the amount of power or control on our economy as we do.
We decide to buy or sell American made products every day. We decide to hire vendors who determine what products they provide and where they come from. 20 years ago I wasn’t nearly as aware of how important it was to buy American or how much impact one wedding album could have on a local economy, but it does.
Your choice as a bride and groom, as a parent, a photographer or other wedding vendor, to buy or sell American made products like wedding albums impacts the lives of people. Those who work in color labs, print houses, and family owned companies like General Products.
Rest in peace, Ron. Your smile will live on in the hearts, memories, and printed photos that so many of us have and will always cherish. Mary, Ray, Anne, and Vic–thank you for sharing Ron with us over the years and for continuing on the passion he had into the third generation.
***Update: General Products will close its doors officially at the end of May 2013. The American Manufacturing Industry has taken another loss mainly due to our lack of understanding of how our purchases impact the communities around us.
As I went to order an annual book I found that I needed to find a new ‘Made in America’ company to provide me with albums. I have had a great experience with a relatively young company Finao and look forward to doing additional business with them.