19, No. 1
Jan. 12 - 25, 2006
Signs of Success
Business Bright at Mex
By HEATHER HADDON
It’s hard to walk a Bronx block without seeing a bright poster
announcing the next bachata or reggaeton concert. The signs seem exotic —
emblazoned with tough looking men and sexy women — but many originate from a
modest printing plant in Bedford Park.
“We do stuff for everywhere that Hispanics go,” said Sergio Camacho, the
younger half of the father-son team behind Mex Printing. Within the white
Jerome Avenue storefront, a handful of employees churn out posters, cards,
T-shirts and other materials at a rapid pace.
“UPS now comes here every day,” Camacho said proudly.
Mex Printing’s success comes from years of experience, and a niche market
fueled by the migration of Latinos to the U.S. Business cards printed by the
company have similar imagery — tacos, Mexican flags and mariachi bands — but
list addresses as diverse as Poughkeepsie, Delaware and North Carolina.
“It’s spread by word of mouth,” said Camacho, 27, about Mex Printing’s
clientele up and down the eastern seaboard.
That wasn’t the case when the elder Camacho, Juan, immigrated to the Bronx
in 1981. Far fewer Mexicans lived here then, and Camacho’s new environs felt
unfamiliar and uncomfortable. “When you first get here, you feel strange,”
said Camacho, 57. “But you get used to it. You have to adapt.”
Camacho was born in Puebla, as were many Mexicans living in New York, and
grew up in Mexico City with his six siblings. While his father stuffed
sausage for a living, Camacho got his hands dirty in the printing trade,
first by cleaning the machines and then operating them. He worked at a large
plant that churned out chocolate wrappers and cookie boxes before setting
his eyes on America in 1978.
“I wanted a better life for my children,” said Camacho, a jocular man quick
Camacho struggled to immigrate (in one instance he wandered through the
desert for days before being sent back), but eventually joined his older
brother in the Bronx. He found work at a Manhattan printing plant, and his
skills quickly garnered him a promotion.
“[The owner] saw how hard I worked,” he said.
Camacho opened Mex Printing at its original location on Webster Avenue in
1990 with one machine donated by his former boss. It was one of the first
Hispanic presses in the city, according to Camacho, and he soon started
creating fliers for parties at Orchard Beach and other local Bronx events.
Still, things were a struggle. “There was not that much to eat,” recalled
Camacho, who also worked part-time jobs.
Language barriers also were a challenge for the family. “I remember the
first day of school, everyone was speaking English, so I ran away,” said
Sergio Camacho, with a chuckle. “Mom found me and dragged me back.”
Camacho’s older son was recruited to help after school, and eventually
Sergio followed. “I used to hate it, but it was good experience,” he said.
“We grew up in the business.”
As their client load increased, Mex Printing moved to its larger Bedford
Park location in 1997. Orders are now taken in the small reception space by
Nylsa, Sergio’s wife, which are then designed on computers or photographed
by a camera the size of an oven. Workers man several presses in the back
room, which is filled with ink bottles, bright white paper and Virgin of
Guadeloupe imagery. On one particular day, 50,000 menus for a Mexican-owned
pizzeria slid between the rollers before they were cut and boxed.
The office’s walls are lined with glossy event posters that range from small
acts — like Phlo, a hip-hop artist posing in front of Tracey Towers — to
Dominican star Juan Luis Guerra and ranchero singer Vincente Fernandez. Mex
Printing also caters to local businesses like Bedford Café and small nail
Alvaro Acevedo, a restaurateur on 180th Street, is loyal to Mex Printing for
one main reason: “They’re on time,” he said, picking up fliers for a dance
Their timeliness has become a selling point since Web-based printing has
made the market more competitive. “It’s a struggle,” said Juan Camacho. Yet,
he vows, “I’m not retiring until I die.”
He’s confident enough about the future to purchase another press (they cost
at least $150,000), and dream about opening a bigger Bronx plant. Still,
Camacho feels loyal to Bedford Park. “The community has been very
supportive,” he said.
The Camachos rarely have time to attend the events they advertise, but they
are happy enough with success. “I’m proud of my children,” said Camacho, as
his wife walked in the door with homemade tacitos. “[My son] knows how to
run the business.”
The younger Camacho, who just saved enough to buy a house in Soundview, is
also proud. “We came from Mexico, we worked hard,” he said. “We’re doing
well, thank God.”
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