By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor
WELCH, W.Va. – October makes 24 years since F&W Printing Inc. opened for business in Welch but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have announced that their paper printing services will cease.
“We survived two floods, fighting because we were women business owners, sickness, but between COVID and this county, we just can’t keep going,” said Fonda Walker.
“You can’t open the door every day and lose money,” said Frances Weaver. “It got to the point that I couldn’t even get paper. It took me 8 weeks to get 5 reams of specialty paper for a job and you can’t do that. It’s because the paper mills are shut down, the paper companies are shut down.”
“So we decided to dissolve the corporation and not do paper printing anymore,” said Walker. “We are hoping to continue making t-shirts and vinyl in the future.”
Fellow printing operation BJW in Beckley was in business for 60+ years and also went out of business in the last couple of months.
“If you don’t have anything to work with, you can’t do anything,” said Weaver.
“The specialty paper we use, we had never waited more than a week before it was delivered. With 8 plus weeks of waiting, you just can’t do that.”
F&W owners Frances Weaver and Fonda Walker started a career in printing at Superior Printing Company in Welch.
“I worked at Superior Printing Company for 24 years,” said Weaver.
“And I worked there for 10 years, until it closed,” said Walker.
After Superior shuttered their operation, the two women took a plunge into the waters of entrepreneurship.
“Two women going in the printing business, we were told we couldn’t do it,” said Walker.
“I’d been a printer for 20 years, what was I going to do, open a dress shop,” said Weaver.
“That made us more determined,” said Walker. “We survived two floods, I went through Stage IV cancer. We have fought for 24 years but never let it beat us. But now we’ve decided its time.”
With the pandemic closing paper mills across the country, Walker and Weaver investigated COVID-19 relief loans, but were not approved by local banks.
“We don’t have it, that’s gone,” said Weaver of their dealings. “We don’t deal with that. You need to talk to the SBA. Talk to the EDA.”
In the 2002 flood, F&W incurred a loss of approximately $197,000 in equipment and supplies.
“The government gave us $20,000 to start back and we did,” said Weaver. “But this time, there’s no outlet. When you can’t get paper to do jobs, we can’t put that on the customers. You can’t make them wait months for receipt books.”
“If we promised a customer they would have it tomorrow, even if it meant us spending the night, we made sure the customer had it tomorrow,” said Walker.
Their dedication to service also was a reaction to experiences at Superior Printing Company.
“One customer would be put off, different prices were offered to different people,” said Weaver. “We always priced everything equally, whether you were John Doe or the President, you’d pay the same price.”
Over the years, F&W said their biggest local supporters were the City of Welch, coal companies, the McDowell County Board of Education and businesses outside McDowell’s borders.
“A lot of our business came from Bluefield and Tazewell,” said Walker.
“But we couldn’t get the people right here to support our business,” said Weaver. “If you can’t get support from the county you’re in, what do you do? People need to band together, especially now, to keep our little town vibrant and doing the best it can.”
Weaver recalled beginning work 45 years ago, when it was still hard to walk down the street versus now.
“The thing that infuriates me is when something starts to struggle, you would think the powers that be would come together, saying we need to keep this. It’s part of our history. But you just hear ‘Hate to hear that’ or ‘What a shame.’”
“Just one more day, we’ll get through this,” said Walker. “We’ve done that for several years now, pushing and pushing.”
“It’s a constant battle and you’re fighting, fighting, fighting. You get tired of that after while,” said Weaver. “But everything being shutdown and not being able to get supplies was the last nail in printing’s coffin. I’m 65 years old and for the first time in my life, it scares me. You just don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Walker and Weaver plan to restructure their company over the winter and hope to keep their graphic shop open, offering t-shirts, signs, and graphics.
“We’re still going to be F&W, just not Printing Incorporated,” said Weaver.