Ink runs dry on 104-year-old Chinatown print shop

After more than 100 years in business and three generations of family, Ho Sun Hing Printers in Chinatown will be closing its doors this Sunday.
The company, which has been open since 1908 (the same year the Courier was established) and at its current location on East Georgia Street since 1961, has seen the print industry change rapidly over the years with the expansion of online print businesses and digital technologies. Yet, Ho Sun Hing Printers has maintained a loyal clientele, despite a reluctance to change with the times.
Its modest storefront disguises its size, but once you walk through the front room the shop opens up into a large two-floor space that is littered with what remains of the print business — shelves of print paper and hundreds of pieces of lead typeset in both Chinese and English.
Owner Hilda Lam, who kept the business going with the help of her sons, sat and filled trays with various pieces of type to be sold off to keen crafters and hobbyists. As she talked about the business, her sense of pride for it was palpable. She has spent her entire life taking care of the shop, but at 81 years old she’s ready to let it go.
“The kids were born here and they were all raised in the printing business. The grandkids don’t really care,” she said with a laugh.
Over the past few months, the Lam family has been slowly selling their many antique printing machines and have had no problem finding interested buyers.
“A few went to Toronto, the rest are in Vancouver. We advertised and we had some people come in. Jukebox Print bought a lot of our machines,” said Hilda.
While a few machines still remain unsold, including the dust-covered 1920s folder machine that has long since been replaced by tabletop models, others were in high demand.
“We had a Japanese typesetting machine, The Japanese Man-Nen everybody wanted, as far as Europe they wanted my machine,” said Hilda’s son Norman Lam, 59, who has worked in the shop with his family ever since he can remember.
“I had a guy from New Zealand that wanted it. A couple people from the East Coast of the U.S.A. wanted it. I said, ‘I’m sorry, I’d like to keep it in Canada.’”
The store’s three typecasting machines were purchased by Nick Howard to be showcased at Howard Iron Works Printing Museum in Toronto. Porchlight Press, Emily Carr, UBC and even Bob Rennie are among the many customers who have bought treasures from the iconic little shop.
The family had anticipated the shop’s closure for some time now, and Norman said that while he had tried to bring the company up-to-date with the times, his mother was reluctant to do so.
“Mom didn’t want to change anything and once Dad passed away, she didn’t really want to run it like a company,” he said.
But he said it was when his older brother, Stephen, passed away that they decided to close the shop’s doors. Every brother had a responsibility and Stephen was the one who operated the letterpress and printed the business cards, letterheads and Chinese invitations, as well as melted down the lead when new typeset needed to be made.
“When my brother passed away just recently, that changed a lot of our perspectives. He was very dear to all of us,” Norman said.
While the store is closing, he alluded to the possibility of continuing the print business in some form or another. Although he doesn’t think he’ll open up another print shop, he wants to keep the name alive.
“The plant is closing, but I’m retaining some of the business contacts and giving some to my friends in the business,” he said.
The shop will be open until Sunday, March 23.
kristenmoran86@hotmail.com
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