Hidden in plain sight, Richmark Label owner says he won’t be leaving Capitol Hill any time soon

IMG_5021


IMG_4984

It is the largest manufacturer on Capitol Hill hidden in plain sight. Everyday Richmark Labels prints millions of labels, mostly for consumer products, from its warehouse in the heart of Capitol Hill at 11th and Pine.

Maybe it was the beige exterior — now in the midst of transformation — or the large maple trees that camouflage the building’s true size, but, for 45 years, Richmark has been churning out labels at all hours of the day and night, relatively unnoticed.

The company’s creations hide in plan sight, too. Safeway tuna fish sandwiches, Elysian’s Split Shot beer bottles, and Fuel Coffee packages are just a handful of the thousands of products that wear Richmark labels.

In 1970, owner Bill Donner moved the business from downtown to the former auto garage on the southeast corner of Cal Anderson Park. He has been running the business since he was 22 after his father started it decades earlier. The company originally printed buttons and award ribbons, transitioning to adhesive labels after they were popularized in the 1950s.

“It’s not because we make things nobody else can make,” Donner said of his longevity in the business. “We’re just faster than anybody else and… I’ve developed systems for manufacturing and selling.”

IMG_4999

Donner, a longtime resident of Mercer Island, grew up in North Seattle and started working in the printing business when he was 10. He’s mostly stayed out of the public eye over the years, doing very few interviews and taking even fewer photos for publication. He declined to have his photo taken for this story.

Richmark employs 77 people and operates 20 hours a day. Inside the warehouse, eight mechanical printing machines whir as dozens of cylinders weave reams of paper through inked plates. Two newer $700,000 digital printers also quietly churn out labels.

At 66, Donner said he has no plans to retire or sell the business. That’s despite the near weekly calls from developers who try to woo him in various ways to sell his prized lot — perhaps the largest “undeveloped” block on Capitol Hill. Some have even offered to pay for a new warehouse as part of a deal.

The Richmark building also includes a wide array of smaller businesses on 12th Ave, including Northwest Liquor and Wine, offices for Seattle Gay News, and the Seattle Bicycle Collective.

Donner said he will eventually sell the business, after which time he speculates the new owners won’t waste time taking up a developer on one of the many offers he’s received over the years.

“This is not a place for a manufacturing business to be,” he said. “Something will be put up that’s needed.”

Donner is hardly a sentimentalist when it comes to the history of Pike/Pine. He’s baffled by the preservation development happening around him and said he fully expects his building to be torn down when the time comes to sell. Several times he told CHS very matter-of-factly, “There’s nothing here to preserve.”

In fact, an effort last year to bolster the neighborhood’s preservation incentive program was one of the few times Donner got publicly involved in city affairs. Last year he joined developer AvalonBay Communities, Inc. in an appeal of proposed zoning changes that would have required developers to preserve any “character structure” on a property earning zoning incentives. Donner eventually dropped the appeal following negotiations.

Tweaking the manufacturing process and optimizing Richmark’s human and machine workforce is what Donner says keeps him clocking in every morning at 5 AM. And there are always new products to label. Inside Donner’s office, dozens of designs for marijuana-related brands were spread over his desk as the new world of I-502 manufacturing and retailing takes hold.

“Financially, I would be ahead to sell … I don’t want to,” he said. “I’m financially comfortable, work is 15-20 minutes from my home. I’m OK with that.”

You can learn more at richmarklabel.com.
IMG_5027

Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

6 thoughts on “Hidden in plain sight, Richmark Label owner says he won’t be leaving Capitol Hill any time soon

  1. Thanks for giving us a peek inside :) Cool to see what happens behind the scenes.

    I’m sure some Onyx residents are glad the business has no immediate plans to move.

  2. What a breath of fresh air! Nice to see a Capitol Hill business that isn’t “creating next generation software experiences”, but actually manufacturing something.

  3. I just want to say I LOVE the mural. It is the best thing to happen in the neighborhood lately. It adds so much color and vitality to that block. Thank you!

  4. At the new Hugo House design review meeting, the architect giving the presentation noted that this property will be likely developed “within 5 years” when the current owner retires. I was surprised by this comment, and wondered where he got his powers of telling the future.

  5. Rumor has it that Donner intends to buy the block. What has he done for the neighborhood? Nothing. His management staff is his backbone and moneymaker. Great businessman, crappy people person. One should look to see how he handles his staff which is like shit.