PDQ Printing founder launches marketing firm

Craig Shankles. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Craig Shankles. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

PDQ Printing and its founder Craig Shankles are fairly synonymous in New Paltz. Over the years, he’s donated untold banners and fliers for community events.

For most festivals, PDQ helped with printing. Many times, Shankles would reach into his own pockets, donating printing as a community service. He also serves on a number of volunteer boards, giving back what he can.

But earlier this year, Shankles hung up his ink-stained printer’s apron for the last time — selling PDQ to two long-time employees. Don’t think he’s not busy, however.


When we caught up with him at his home on Huguenot Street, he had sculptures to finish, a garden to tend, a motorcycle to cherish and a whole new business venture underway.

Shankles, 63, has started www.BestofYourTown.com — a marketing venture that aims to promote everything New Paltz. Its first major product is an illustrated, cartoon map of every business in the college town.

“Its focus is to help small businesses at a local level,” he explained.

Shankles sees a world where smartphones have changed retail forever — a world where behemoths like Amazon, eBay and Wal-Mart have a stranglehold on the marketplace.

“These behemoths have the power and the money to really crush small businesses,” he said.

Smartphones too have created a pickier, more-informed customer. If they can get it cheaper by ordering it online, they will — even if that means “showrooming” it at local store. “The technology is here in everybody’s hands.”

Far from panicking, Shankles sees it with passion. It’s a new era of business to learn about and master.

“I truly love being in business,” he said. “At the end of the day, we need a healthy business community.”


Early days

Shankles’ dad came from Oklahoma, a farm boy who served during World War II in the Navy. It was through Navy service that his dad met his mother — a native of Brooklyn. They fell in love, became pen pals and he found her — surviving three shipwrecks and near-death experiences — after the war, and they got married.

While he wanted to move back to Oklahoma, Craig’s mom was a New Yorker through and through. “Her world was Brooklyn. The world ended across the bridge in Manhattan as far as she was concerned,” he said.

Craig grew up on Flatbush Avenue in the city, playing stickball in the streets. But his dad, worn down by the metropolitan life, wanted to get out of the city. They moved to Hicksville on Long Island. Craig jokes that’s because his dad loved the implication of Hickville’s name.

But Shankles and his dad didn’t always get along. “There was really a tension between my father and me,” he remembered.

Where Shankles’ dad was a traditional military man, he didn’t like what he saw in the Vietnam War. He became active in the anti-war movement after reading the often shocking and deeply moving letters from his brother, who served in Vietnam.

He came to SUNY New Paltz to go to college and distance himself from his father, Shankles said.

During college, Shankles worked as the manager of New Paltz Cinema — which is how he got his first taste of business. He had to book movies for the theater, working with film distributors to find an appealing mix of cult and unknown flicks. He also saw the high profit margins on concessions.

His friend Phil Alexander, who he met during his brief time in California, was a concert promoter. He also knew a lot about cinema. Shankles would get tips about hot, lesser-known movies from Alexander. The relationship also meant that New Paltz Cinema also got lots of short animated and stop-motion films. The college kids and stoners loved them.

Since they were short, the animated films had natural breaks, rhythms where people could wander up to the front of the theater to buy soda, candy and popcorn. “Needless to say, we made a ton of money on the concessions.”

It helped turn New Paltz Cinema around.

Shankles, who noticed a trend toward cult films, helped bring “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to New Paltz. Amazingly subversive and funny, “Rocky Horror” hit immediately with SUNY New Paltz students and college kids from Dutchess County, too. “It ran for like a year and a half.”


The beginnings of PDQ

Back in the 1970s, when Shankles ran the theater, he had to do something that in 2014 is fairly unimaginable. He promoted all the movies with print ads and flyers alone. He’d often do the illustrations himself.

He’d head to nearby campuses, Vassar and Marist across the river and SUNY here at home, leafleting cars in the parking lots to promote the shows.

“In that time, New Paltz had two small print shops,” he said. Shankles went to them a lot.

But wait times were often long. If a show time changed, or an ad ran with a mistake, correction flyers weren’t easy to make. Pre-Internet, print and legwork were the only way to inform people.

He remembers one time where he needed a flyer for a movie running the next day. The print shop guy looked at him, saying, “Alright. Pick it up in two weeks.”

In 1979, Shankles realized that he couldn’t be alone in needing quicker printing. He started researching copiers — which were then brand new. He realized there might be a way to do it better. Shankles researched everything he could get his hands on, and he talked to his connections with print experience.

He got a copy machine, a tabletop duplicator and set up shop in part of his friend’s store. “So I had a small press, mimeograph and a copier. I was in business,” he said.

After he outgrew the space in his friend’s shop, he soon moved to a strip mall in New Paltz owned by the founder of Manny’s Art Supplies. They used to call it Manny’s Mini Mall. And 28 years ago, they moved into the plaza by the theater.