About 100 years ago, what is now the John Stark Printing Co.
got its start by publishing "The Maple Leaf Rag" and other songs by
ragtime musician Scott Joplin.
Today, the company's repertoire of printed products runs from
cutouts of Clydesdales for Anheuser-Busch ads to promotions on
plastic film that Hallmark sticks to the windows of its greeting
The Des Peres company is among the largest printers in the
country of POP - point-of-purchase - advertisements, says owner
Examples of these are the posters, banners, mobiles and
countertop signs in stores and bars that persuade you to buy
alcohol, cigarettes, batteries, shoes - even diamonds.
Among Stark's other capabilities is printing on "translites,"
those backlit signs often seen atop refrigerated cases in
convenience stores. It also prints on plastic that is vacuum-formed
into 3-D ads. A sample hanging on the wall at Stark shows a
miniature racing car emblazoned with the Miller beer logo.
"It's not like putting a man on the moon," Kelley said, "but
it's still demanding work."
Kelley expects that his company's revenue will top $25 million
this year. The sole printing plant is here, but the company also
has sales offices in Kansas City, Cleveland and Tampa and uses
sales reps in Sacramento and Dallas. From that last office, Kelley
is beginning to reach out to customers in Mexico.
That's a long way from Sedalia, Mo., where John Stark ran a
music store before the turn of the century. At the time, Joplin was
living in Sedalia, attending college, writing songs and playing the
piano at the Maple Leaf Club.
One day, Stark stopped at the club for a cold beer. He heard
the rag tune that Joplin had composed and named for the club. Stark
liked it, bought the rights to it and published it in 1899.
The two men soon moved to St. Louis and developed a business
relationship that lasted for years. Such cooperation between black
and white businessmen was unusual in those days, says Billye
Crumpton, assistant director of the Scott Joplin State Historic
Stark was the first publisher to give Joplin a contract and
royalties, she said. In those days, black composers usually
received $25 or $50 for a song and no royalties. But Stark
recognized that Joplin was no flash in the pan. Stark ended up
publishing 23 of the more than 70 songs of Joplin's that saw print,
Stark's first printing plant was at Second and Olive streets
downtown, Kelley said. Later, the company moved to the Midtown
area. Today, Stark occ upies 65,000 square feet at 12969 Manchester
Road, just west of Interstate 270.
Stark has about 90 employees, including 65 craftsmen, who are
unionized. The company, with four presses, operates two shifts a
day, five days a week and often on Saturdays. Kelley hopes to soon
see it in operation nonstop.
Stark specializes in large-format printing, up to 43 inches by
60 inches. Kelley recently spent $5 million on a new 38-by-51-inch
press from Germany, believed to be the only one of its kind in this
The KBA Planeta Rapida press - all 117 tons of it - arrived in
January. With it came three Germans, who spent several months here
setting up and testing the press, which is almost half as long as a
football field, and training crews to operate it. …