Birney Imes

Dewey Petigo says he’s been “scared to death” twice in his 44 years as C&P Printing. The first time was in 1978, when he and Paul Carpenter left secure jobs at Besco’s print shop to open their business – Petigo would buy Carpenter five or six years later.

“I was scared to death,” says Petigo. “We knew we had to make it work.”

Then there was the day the Secret Service agent came calling. More on that later.

Dewey Petigo grew up in a sharecropping family in rural Itawamba County.

“Someone said we were so far out in the country that we got ‘The Tonight Show’ in the mail,” he said.

On the night of his high school graduation in 1966, Petigo, like most of his 16 siblings before him, headed north for a better paying job. There he lived with his sister and her husband in Melrose Park, a suburb of Chicago, and worked as a machinist.

While in the North, he got married and toured Vietnam.

However, Petigo’s Mississippi-born wife longed for the home, and in 1975 they moved to Columbus, and he went to work at Besco’s printing company.

He and Carpenter first settled in the Cox Building on South Fourth Avenue near Columbus Light and Water. They quickly outgrew the space and two years later moved to the current location on Gardner Boulevard near its intersection with Highway 182.

They printed football programs, brochures, letterhead, student textbooks, business cards and invoices.

“Pretty much if it could be printed and it wasn’t stamps or money, we printed it,” Petigo said.

At one point, C&P employed six. New technologies and the advent of personal computers have changed all that. He is now the sole employee of the company.

“When I started this business,” says Petigo, “a color brochure took at least two weeks. Now I can do it while you wait.

Although he still uses the offset presses that were once the mainstay of small print shops like C&P, most of his work is now done on a sleek Toshiba color copier.

He still prints purchase orders and invoices on an offset press, but for wedding invitations and announcements, often designed by the customer online, he uses the color copier.

Never try to print change in a photocopier, says Petigo. The machine will stop and it will require a technician to restart it.

Petigo has experience printing currency, or something like that.

In the late 80s and early 90s, Petigo started printing business cards on the back of what appeared to be a $20 bill. The card was the same height as the bill, but about 40% shorter. Petigo, as best he could, matched the color used by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and used parchment paper.

“Five feet away you couldn’t tell the difference,” he said.

The cards hit the mark. Mechanics, body shops, and even businesses from out of state ordered the business cards in foreign currency.

“I asked people to drop them off at the grocery store and watch people’s reactions,” Petigo said.

Charles Younger, who was running for chancery clerk, had campaign cards printed by Petigo on the back of the truncated $20 bill.

All was well until someone in Oxford paid for a pizza with one of Younger’s campaign cards. Apparently the pizzeria wasn’t amused by the prank, nor were the feds.

A Secret Service agent came calling. He had traced the source of the map through Younger, who, along with County District Attorney Jeff Smith and Lowndes County Sheriff, had phoned Petigo to alert him and tell him he had nothing to worry about.

The calls had the opposite of the intended effect. Petigo was scared.

“He was the nicest guy,” Petigo said of the agent, who relaxed after realizing the printer was doing nothing wrong.

Petigo still has the agent’s business card in his pocket. Out of nostalgia, he says.

Petigo turned over all plates and negatives to the agent. “He didn’t say ‘please,'” Petigo said.

The officer asked him if he wanted a receipt for the confiscated materials.

“I said yes. I wanted the receipt to show my grandchildren that I got arrested.

As for retirement, Petigo, 74, is hesitant.

“I was going to retire at 66, but it became easy. I don’t know what I would do if I retired,” he says.

For now, he is going it alone. Well, not exactly. There’s Pepper, the African gray parrot, who has been an integral part of the shop for 21 years.

“I can walk to the back and she’ll scream ‘Deweyyyyyy’,” he says.

Joining C&P Printing is like stepping back in time. Unlike most businesses today – often corporate, shiny and standardized – there is an intimate clutter in the place. Add to that Dewey… and Pepper.

I asked him what he liked most about his job. Keep in mind he’s been doing this for 44 years, 42 of them at the same place.

“Just meeting people and doing something different,” he said. “Almost every day I see something different.”

Birney Imes ([email protected]) is the former publisher of The Dispatch.

Birney Imes III is the former immediate editor of The Dispatch.

Quality and thorough journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most comprehensive reporting and insightful commentary from the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.