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Shifting trade leads Virginia stamp business to nameplates

March 4, 2018

PORT REPUBLIC, Va. (AP) — About 20 years ago, a pastor asked Jonathan Lee to create nameplates for him to add to his mini-barns.

Lee, who already had a flourishing rubber stamp business, decided to try it out but didn’t pursue it much until about five years ago.

Now, his business, Blue Ridge Impressions in Port Republic, is shifting emphasis to the nameplate industry. Nameplates, which identify the company that made the product, are used by businesses for marketing.

“The designs are as unique as the companies we work for,” he said.

Journey To Port Republic

Lee, and his wife, Anita, both 53, started the business out of their Elkton home in 1996.

“It was an interesting time,” said Jonathan Lee, who had two small children at home at the time. “It had it’s good side and bad side. You had the privilege of working all the time, but you also had the privilege to stop at any time.”

About two years later, the Lees wanted to add a part-time employee but ran into zoning issues because they were operating the business from their home. So the couple opened a shop in McGaheysville, where they continued to operate the mail catalog business.

When they began searching for a new location, they found the former Village Store Canoeing building on Port Republic Road in Port Republic. Blue Ridge Impressions set up shop there and just recently marked a decade in business at that location.

Once in the small Rockingham County community, the Lees knew their enterprise had found a home.

“It was a quiet, little place,” said Jonathan Lee, adding that the couple’s business didn’t need the foot traffic Harrisonburg offers. “We didn’t need to be in town ... we had no reason to be in town.”

Another perk: The post office is just a minute or so walk down the road.

“We couldn’t have planned it (better) if we tried,” he said.

New Adventure

Blue Ridge Impressions entered the rubber stamp industry as it was becoming a thriving hobby in the late 1990s. Many people loved using the stamps to decorate greeting cards or letters.

Back then, Lee said, computer graphics couldn’t compete with rubber stamps.

“Even if you could make the design on a computer, the printing quality was so poor,” he said.

Lee focused his stamps on things his family cherishes, including pictures of nature, Bible verses and poetry.

“Anytime you incorporate art or music into something, your values are going to come out in it,” he said.

Recently, he reintroduced one of his best-sellers, a stamp that reads: “Friendship is a gold cord that binds two hearts together.”

At the peak of the boom, Blue Ridge Impressions was selling about 40,000 stamps a year. Now, it sells about half that per year.

“I expect the rubber stamp business to continue on, but it’ll never be what it used to be,” he said.

But Lee adapted and is now putting more emphasis on the nameplate side of the business. His nameplate catalog is sent to about 700 businesses, and he has customers is 41 states.

The business makes nameplates for just about anything, but most sales comes from those whose make sheds and fences.

“In the last five or 10 years, sheds are just everywhere ... and every shed needs a plate,” he said.

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