There are numerous businesses in the City of Pico Rivera. Many are well known major retailers and many are mom and pop stores that have a loyal following. There are some businesses in the City that many don’t know exist but provide a unique service. One of those businesses is Kater-Crafts Bookbinders.
The business started in October of 1948 with Mel Kavin returning home from the Navy after World War II. In his spare time in the Navy, he learned different types of crafts and with that knowledge in hand started a business out of his East Los Angeles home selling craft supplies and offering craft classes. He partnered with a longtime friend and fellow Boy Scout Lou Peter and Kater-Crafts Bookbinders was born.
In the early stages of the business, the partners Mel and Lou took an interest in bookbinding and began to learn the trade. Through a request from a college friend at the University of Southern California, they were asked to bind a few books. Working in the family’s basement the books were bound and sent back to USC. What they thought was a one-time request, turned into a business that soon outgrew the basement of the Kavin family home.
After leasing a building for a few years in East Los Angeles, the owners sensed it necessary to find a more permanent location for Kater-Crafts Bookbinders. Mel and Lou felt it was essential to choose a location close to employees’ homes. Kater-Crafts Bookbinders employees were very important and as such played an integral role in how the location of the permanent operation was selected.
After looking over maps, a patch of land located in the young City of Pico Rivera was selected. With a ground breaking taking place with City officials, Kater-Crafts Bookbinders in Pico Rivera was born in 1965. Located on Gregg Street just north of Whittier Boulevard, it was the first business and building to occupy the space and to this day, the property and building is still owned by Kater-Crafts Bookbinders.
With a new building full of employees, it was time to go to work. The primary focus of the business was to be a library bindery. In a lengthy and detailed process, old library books were rebound by taking old covers off, putting hard covers on, trimming the edges, resewing pages, stamping the title, and the book was returned good as new. Another major service that Kater-Crafts Bookbinders performed was periodical binding. This was a process in which a set number of periodicals were binded into one book at the end of the production year for any one periodical. For the most part, this was Kater-Crafts binding up until the dawn of the digital age when print went to the way of digital.
Mel Kavin took up the ownership of Kater-Crafts Bookbinders in the early 1980s, at a time when print was king. At around the turn of the 21st century, when magazines and books became available online, print editions were on the decline. With print slowly disappearing, so was business. Mel kept the business going, adapting to new technology and ran the business until he passed away in 2006. His three children stepped in, Rick, Bruce, and Judy, and they have been the backbone of the business ever since.
When book binding was a service that was in demand, Kater-Crafts Bookbinders had the lion’s share of the business. With only one major competitor located in Long Beach, Kater-Crafts Bookbinders became the sole book binder in the area when the competition closed. With over 100 employees during its peak, today Kater-Crafts Bookbinders is still the only bookbinder in the area but with fewer than a dozen employees.
Even though the demand is not as it was over 50 years ago, there is still a need. Many projects that come through the doors of Kater-Crafts Bookbinders are book restorations. Bibles that have been passed down through generations are often brought in to be restored, many of which are 50 years or older. Other books including family cook books, high school yearbooks, children’s books or books that are family heirlooms are restored. What is interesting about book restoration is that the very book that was submitted to be restored could easily be purchased online. However, it’s the sentimental value behind the book that is being restored. While many will come in with books that are nearly half a century old, there have been projects with books that date back to the 17th and 18th century.
It’s not all about book binding at Kater-Crafts Bookbinders. They also produce special edition and collector’s edition boxes and covers for well-known books. When it’s not books they are binding, they are working on projects that you may have seen and not even know it. If you have ever visited a local restaurant, chances are that menu was produced at Kater-Crafts Bookbinders. They also produced props for popular movie titles such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Tron: Legacy, and Titanic. Tom Cruise has commissioned photobooks showcasing his movie projects and given them to the crew.
While taking a tour of the facility, many projects are at various stages of production. It’s a business that is still alive and a company with faithful employees hard at work at the trade they have been dedicated to for so long.