WATERVILLE — The Atkins Printing Service downtown will close later this month after 102 years in business, because of the tough economy and inability to effectively compete in an evolving marketplace, according to co-owner Jim Mitchell.

“I feel, obviously, terrible for the employees,” Mitchell said Monday. “We have terrific, terrific employees.”

When he and his brother, Peter Mitchell, bought the 155 Main St. company four years ago, they were optimistic about the business but did not see the financial meltdown coming, he Mitchell said.

“That really had a big impact on the commercial customers,” he said.

In business since 1910, Atkins does computer design, digital and offset printing, full bindery services including trim, folding, letterpress and saddle stitch and mailing.

Nine skilled employees will lose their jobs because of the closing. They learned of the closing about a week ago.

“We have terrific employees operating very sophisticated equipment like our printing press,” Jim Mitchell said. “We have folks with administrative skills, people in the matting, bindery area, those with computer skills. These are extraordinarily talented, hardworking people. It’s been great working with the people of Atkins. I’m only sorry we were unable to make a go of it.”

The Mitchells bought the company in January 2008, from Ralph Atkins, whose grandfather, also named Ralph, founded the company. Jim became president; Peter, chief executive officer. The Mitchells’ uncle, Eddie Atkins, previously owned the company for many years.

Atkins’ entrance on Main Street is aboveground, but most of the business is underground and uses space under three buildings. The 22,000-square-foot business produced highly specialized printing for companies including L.L. Bean.

Clyde Goodwin of Waterville worked at Atkins 38 years before he had to retire about a year ago for medical reasons; his wife, Bonnie, has worked at Atkins 24 years, doing bindery, gathering and collating.

They said they are extremely sad to see the business close but they understand the reasons.

“I had 38 years in there and my dad had 33 years,” Clyde Goodwin, 59, said Monday. “Out of the 102 years, my dad and I had 71 years of it.”

Goodwin was a bindery foreman and ran a folding machine. His father, Kenneth, made deliveries.

“It’s a hard business right now with all the new technologies,” Goodwin said. “It’s hard. I kind of saw it coming a couple of years ago, but I was hoping for a miracle.”

Bonnie Goodwin, 58, said the Mitchells have been very good to her and her husband.

When he got sick, the Mitchells gave them days off and made sure they had what they needed.

She said the employees are like family.

“We do things together and talk about it and we all get teary-eyed. The guys are very emotional — even more than the women,” she said.

Clyde Goodwin said the original Ralph Atkins company was a photography business on the upper floor of the former Levine’s building on Main Street. Edward Atkins started a print shop in what is now Silver Street Tavern, he said.

In the early 1970s, Atkins moved to its current location.

Mayor Karen Heck said Monday that she is sad to learn Atkins is closing.

When she worked for Kennebec Valley Community Action Program years ago, she used the company’s services, and Atkins printed all her campaign literature when she ran for mayor last year.

“It’s the kind of thing that we really don’t want to have happen to us,” she said of the closing. “There are so many reasons — because they are long-term employees, it is a long-term business, because it leaves a hole in the economy in Waterville. I’m wishing them all the best.”

Heck said she wants to work on supporting local businesses, as opposed to always trying to recruit businesses to the city. It is important to help existing businesses grow and be able to hire more people, she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

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