Book Bindery Maintains Profitable Niche Craft

by George Waldon  on Monday, Apr. 1, 2013 12:00 am  

John Machycek, owner of J&B Quality Book Bindery Inc., displays a copy of “The Beautiful Story: Golden Gems of Religious Thought,” published in 1888.  (Photo by Michael Pirnique)

In the era of Nook, Kindle and iPad, J&B Quality Book Bindery Inc. remains a bastion for old-school craftsmanship that provides support for a competing handheld device.

“Of all the old Arkansas bookbinders, I’m the only one left,” said John Machycek, the company’s 70-year-old proprietor.

Machycek (pronounced my-hee-check) operates the family enterprise on the southern outskirts of Little Rock with his wife, Lawanna; son, Johnny; and daughter, Pattie.

Though located off the beaten path, J&B enjoys a steady flow of business founded on a customer base established over the long decades before e-books arrived on the scene.

Delivering reliable service in a niche market overshadows the importance of a more visible or easier accessed location. Helpful signs point the way along Willow Springs Road toward the shop, home to the venture since fire led to a relocation from southwest Little Rock.

John Machycek estimates that jobs are divided about 50-50 between single book repair-restoration and binding periodicals.

Repairing Bibles and assembling magazines and newspapers in book form for clients are mainstays of the business.

“We make enough to pay wages,” he said. “Restoration work comes and goes with libraries and collectors.”

Machycek can’t recall the title, but a French book from the 12th century is the oldest item he’s worked on over the years.

In his world, spines are the backbones for leaves, which have nothing to do with the autumn castoffs of deciduous trees. Each leaf is a sheet composed of two pages, front and back. Glue and stitching provide the flexible links to join leaves with cover.

The equipment needed to assemble a book or make repairs is a mixture of automated machinery and handheld tools.

The shop’s gear includes sewing machine, paper cutter, rounder and backer (for shaping the spine of a book), gluing machine, type machine, stamper and hydraulic press.

Machycek became a bookbinder by happenstance as an 18-year-old
in search of work. A job interview in 1962 led to employment with Little Rock Library Bindery.

“I’ve worked for a book bindery about my whole life,” Machycek said.

When he started J&B in 1977, Machycek straddled two jobs, working the 11:30 p.m.-7 a.m. graveyard shift at International Business Forms and opening his shop from 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

“I was a young man then, and it was easy to do,” he said. “I did this for about 12 years until I paid off all the equipment.”

The “B” in the company name was going to reflect a partnership with Betty Kitchens. That partnership didn’t happen although she worked for Machycek.

He decided to keep the “B” in recognition of his brother-in-law and sister, Bruce and Bernice Henley, who loaned him money to help start the business.

With an experienced background in both printing and bookbinding, Machycek decided to choose the less competitive field for his venture.

“I always stayed with the bookbinding,” he said. 



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