New Haven’s Lehman Bros., Too, Goes Belly Up

by Melissa Bailey | December 30, 2008 8:02 AM | | Comments (31)

IMG_0892.JPGIMG_0906.jpgEric Lehman pulled the gate closed on a century of history, as his grandfather’s engraving business ended in bankruptcy.

Lehman (pictured), a tall man with a long pointed mustache, was walking away from Lehman Brothers Inc, a commercial printing business that his grandfather and great-uncle founded in 1910.

The company has no relation to the Wall Street titan Lehman Brothers investment bank, which also toppled into bankruptcy this year.

New Haven’s Lehman Brothers closed on Dec. 9, forcing 20 people out of their jobs. For 98 years, it produced high-end engravings, fine stationery and a lot of wedding invitations.

The company had hoped it might be printing invitations for President-Elect Barack Obama’s inauguration. Instead, on Monday afternoon, the family found itself giving a tour to an attorney from bankruptcy court.

As her dad talked to the lawyer, Lehman’s daughter snapped photos of the engraving machines in the low, white factory at 191 Foster St. in East Rock. As she tried to document the century’s worth of equipment, her camera ran out of batteries. The group resolved to go home for the day.

The loss is too painful to talk about, said Eric Lehman, swinging the gate closed.

His company claims to be the oldest continually run engraving printing press in the country. After struggling in bankruptcy court for four years, the New Haven institution finally collapsed on Dec. 9.

IMG_0904.jpgOn that day, Michael Daly (pictured) came knocking on the door. It was four o’clock at the end of a work day. He had been appointed by New Haven’s U.S. bankruptcy court to deliver a message: The plant must close.

Daly took the keys and changed the locks.

IMG_0894.JPGThe plant’s 20 workers had already gone home, said David Perkins (pictured), one of the company’s owners. The company called them at their homes. Workers were told they could come back and get their belongings the next day.

One employee said she got word of the layoffs from a message on her answering machine. She had worked there for 30 years. Others had spent 43 years at the plant, she said.

Monday, one workspace (pictured at the top of this story) appeared untouched since the last day of operation. On the machine, pictures of a man fishing caught the light. A wristwatch and pair of glasses hung nearby.

“It’s a shame,” said attorney Daly, surveying the inventory Monday. In his 20 years as a bankruptcy court trustee, this is the fourth time he’s overseen the closing of a Connecticut printing press. He came in to secure the facility, list and sell the inventory, and to make sure the heat is still on so the pipes don’t burst.

As he prepared for liquidation, he let a couple of the owners back in the plant Monday morning. Perkins took a break from loading boxes into his car to give the Independent a tour of the 25,000-square-foot factory.

IMG_0895.jpgHe picked up a copper die, a small metal plate etched with a design. Die stampers then spread ink on the plate and run it through a machine to make prints.

IMG_0896.jpgAs he walked through the large, quiet rooms, he pointed to an engraving machine (pictured). It was the first automatic engraving press in the country; the largest engraving machine in the country, too, he said with pride.

His wife, Eve Perkins, is a descendant of Louis Lehman, who founded the company on Court Street along with Isadore Lehman in 1910. The company moved to its current location, a former screw factory, in 1929. The company product, engraved stationery, has changed little since then. Until the end, the plant used equipment from the 1920s. (Click here for a history on the company website.)

As the world changed, the company has struggled to survive. In May 2004, when the company had 30 employees, it filed under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It owed over 50 vendors a total debt of between $1 million and $10 million, according to court records. To make ends meet, the plant let go a half-dozen employees. The case was recently converted to Chapter 7.

What brought the business down?

“The cost of everything,” said Perkins. The company is a union shop. The costs of health care and wages for veteran union workers were hard to keep up with, he said. (A union rep couldn’t be reached as of press time.)

Employees with unpaid wages were asked to file a claim in bankruptcy court, where they’ll join the list of creditors vying for the plant’s assets.

Daly, the trustee, is still deciding if he’ll auction off the equipment or sell it to a private entity. Lehman Brothers owns the equipment and the building, which will be sold.

GHP printers in West Haven has bought the company’s name, said Perkins. GHP “intends to resurrect engraving at their plant,” he said in an email.

Daly said he hopes that by moving the engraving elsewhere, it might provide work for a few laid-off workers who had to spend the holiday season looking for a job.

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Posted by: Ellis Copleland | December 30, 2008 8:31 AM

More NH jobs lost while Johhny fiddles. As long as the cronies get their payoffs I guess eveeryone is happy

Posted by: robn | December 30, 2008 8:42 AM

This is a bummer. If I'm not mistaken these guys printed the box of color cards for Joseph Albers Interaction of Color.

Posted by: Fed Up | December 30, 2008 8:57 AM

This is a good story because it includes pictures. So many of these storys do not have a single picture.


Posted by: True New Havener | December 30, 2008 9:01 AM

This is a sad loss for New Haven.

I do take one exception with the story though. The owner seems to (gently) blame unionized workers for his problems. But the costs he then cites are the costs of decent (not over the top) living -- "The costs of health care and wages for veteran union workers were hard to keep up with, he said."

The reporter's not delving into this a bit more is a mistake since it makes it seem like an engraving business was done in by paying people decently and providing health insurance and that somehow this is the union's fault.

Universal government supported health care would go a long way to solving this problem -- not inherently blaming the union. You can't run an engraving or similar business without long term employees and the costs associated with keeping those employees. These are old machines that require engineers and craftsmen.

Much more than a union that got basic benefits for its workers, Lehman Bros. was done in by technology in general and the laser printer specifically. You can get a very nice wedding invitation by paying 20 bucks for cards and envelopes at Staples and running them through a laser printer which you can buy for $125. Or you can spend about the same on engraved invitations.

Posted by: taxed 2 death | December 30, 2008 9:31 AM

I am sure JD has done his very best to ease taxes on one of the few mainstay business's in new haven.........NOT!

Don't blame it all on the unions, blame the tax u 2 death mayor who gave himself a huge raise while asking his employees to give back. At the rate we are going there won't be anyplace left producing anything in new haven. It will be a vacuum

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 30, 2008 9:47 AM

Without knowing the private financial information of the company, how can one speculate either way about the impact of union wages and the cost of health insurance? We do know the cost of providing health insurance grew significantly over time.

Posted by: Streever | December 30, 2008 9:55 AM

What a sad story. It's always depressing when an old company goes out of business due to changing times & technology. I do think the laser printer is a more likely reason for the decline...

I think you're missing the point of True New Havener: it sounds like s/he is saying that regardless of the cost, those costs are important & part of decent pay.

I fully agree.

I googled "average salary machine shop labor" and saw about 30k.

I can't imagine having 2 kids, a stable home, & transportation & health care if a family makes 60k total before taxes.

Ergo, employer provides health care.

It's not the union or the employer or the employee's fault that health care has gone up in price!

As True New Havener says, this is an argument for government health care.

I think every working human being is entitled to have 1-2 children, a stable place to live, and the ability to transport their family.

Posted by: MattUva | December 30, 2008 10:57 AM

My grandfather used to own a courier business, tasked with bringing stationery, etc. from businesses in CT to large corporations in NYC. Lehman was one of his clients.
I remember as a kid getting to make the "pick-up" at Lehman with either my Grandfather or my Dad, driving in from Shelton. The crew there were always so nice to me. They even had YooHoo put in the soda machine just for me (that goes a loooong way with a 9 year old kid!).
These were my earliest memories of New Haven, as working class people in nice, mixed, old neighborhoods. As a kid I wanted nothing more to live in New Haven, where I do now, with my backyard butting up against the Lehman building.
I am going to miss the summertime, when Lehman opened their windows and our block was filled with the "music" of those presses. Good luck to those who have been laid off, I hope you are able to make your music somewhere else.

Posted by: City Hall Watch | December 30, 2008 12:13 PM

This is not an example of why we need universal, government backed healthcare. Who do you think will pay for that? The cost in Connecticut alone exceeds the entire bloated budget of the state. While wages, benefits and healthcare are not the only reason for this business to end, it certainly is one of them. Costs had to be trimmed from top to bottom, including healthcare, wages and benefits and other factors as well. And by the way, printing wedding invites with a laser printer has to be made by somebody who has never been married. Would you hand fold them too? lol

Posted by: Hood Rebel | December 30, 2008 12:13 PM

Massachusetts developer Carter Winstanley just purchased the former Winchester/Us Repeating Arms facility in Science Park, which is a designated federal Empowerment/Renewal Community Zone.

There is significant Federal tax incentives for companies to relocate into these Zones.

It seems to me that companies like Lehman and others would be chasing down folks in city hall to see if that facility is available for light manufacturing while at the same time benefiting from these lucrative incentives.

Clearly it makes good financial sense to also hire from the surrounding 'hood.

And is the city taking advantage of this new Federal program I have posted below?:


Posted by: Pat | December 30, 2008 12:47 PM

Maybe the writer should have spoken to the employees to get their opinion. I am sure the consensus would of been that Lehman's closing was mainly due to POOR management and not the rising cost of health care etc.

Posted by: yeah.right | December 30, 2008 12:55 PM

take it from someone who worked there for a long time.....the fact that it started out as a screw factory is more than ironic considering how we all got screwed.

Posted by: Streever | December 30, 2008 1:40 PM

City Hall Watch,

Have you heard of France?

They have a longer life expectancy, better health care (Ranked #1 by the World Health Organization. Guess where America ranks?), and, you know what, it costs less.

You pay it in taxes, and the government manages it efficently & focuses on preventive care.

debates over. Go do the math if you want to discuss it with me.

Posted by: Incompetencefromthetop | December 30, 2008 2:08 PM

What happened to this company is that the family members who made it thrive either left or died, the ones left, namely the ones in the story were incompetent in dealing with customers, employees, and everyone else. High costs of union wages? The employees averaged 25cent/hr raises for the last 5 years. The healthcare costs were added to the employees deductions while at the same time the company was not paying the union dues that was coming out of our checks, why that isn't a crime escapes me. They played favorites, while they didn't have any money at the same time people were allowed overtime who were doing nothing. So, all in all, clearly the people who ran it into the ground were not of the same cloth of those who ran it successfully and guess what, all THAT TIME WITH A UNION.

Posted by: jay | December 30, 2008 3:14 PM

He should be front and center asking city officials to work try and save these small companies.

Posted by: Kells | December 30, 2008 3:29 PM

This sucks. New Haven is losing everything. It's always sad to see a longstanding company shutdown. Good luck to the people who lost their jobs after being there for so many years. My prayers are with them during these hard economic times.

Posted by: True New Havener | December 30, 2008 4:34 PM

Mr. City Hall Watch (is that an appointed, elected or just personally designated position of importance) -- I'm guessing that lots of people now print their wedding invitations, business cards, etc. by using a laser printer.

It is pretty clear that you have no idea how affordable subsidized health care works. The idea that you can keep shifting those costs onto workers (as has happened over the last 30 years) or that small business can afford to pay it are both stupid ideas.

So Japan, France, Canada, etc., etc., all have healthier people, longer life spans, better ranked health programs and yet you drivel on the corporate propaganda that we just need to cut, cut, cut.

The sad thing about the laser printer is not that it has replaced commercial printers, but that it is almost certainly being built in a poor country by people who lack basic workplace protections. And why do they lack these things -- well if American history is any clue -- because they lack a meaningful union movement. So there is no new quality job created to replace the lost one. Technology when combined with the worst exploitative elements of capitalism is not a good thing.

So wake up -- or join the now completely regional Republican party -- the conservative Neanderthal approach has failed us. We can expect double digit unemployment, the values of our homes to go through the floor, our mortgages to be called, and for life to basically become pretty tough for a few years until we get back to some level of government sanity.

So let it go -- you were wrong. Every lie you regurgitated your whole adult life was just that -- a lie.

Posted by: Rob Wilson | December 30, 2008 7:51 PM

Geeze, what is it with people. The government intervenes in the system, costs go up, and the answer is always more government intervention. Healthcare in this country was affordable by everyone until government got involved. since then, its done nothing but go up. But airhead Americans think, gee, the answer is MORE government. These are the same clowns that have spent over $8 trillion they/we DON'T have to bailout a failing system that THEY created. How can Americans keep being so dumb???

Sorry to see the plant close. I thought the story was well written - seems that the company was mis-managed. Reminds me of the car companies the same idiots you want to turn our healthcare system over to are now BAILING OUT with money WE DON'T HAVE. Please, for pete's sake - WAKE UP!!!!

Posted by: feeling betrayed [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 30, 2008 11:21 PM

Amazing how the owners don't even know how many people were employed at Lehman Brothers. Total of 20. Is Mr. Perkins blaming the union for it's downfall??? Funny he didn't even pay into the Union Pension (maybe 5 yrs or so), Pay the employee union due's, that were deducted from their paychecks(isn't that a crime??),pay their health care (which once again-portion taken from their pay). Most times these workers didn't even know if they were getting paid that week. No communication whats so ever on the OWNERS part.Employees learning of possible NON PAYMENT through work of mouth. As a matter of fact "WE ALL" have to fight it out in the court room for our last 56 hours of wages earned but never paid. I know for a fact that Mr. Perkins had plans to relocate himself and his wife. The brother is coming along only because of the wife!! This man has betrayed not only the employees who MADE that company but THE NAME. If only those who really cared about Lehman Brothers Inc could see how HE destroyed that company. No loyalty or concern for others. He has betrayed his wife and her family. SHAME ON HIM> And shame on them for allowing it!!

Posted by: DAFeder | December 31, 2008 12:51 AM

So sorry to see Lehman Bros. go under; they printed my (very complicated) wedding invitations a few years ago, and did a beautiful job. Eve and Dave were a joy to work with, and they'll be missed. At least we have the custom-made metal die as a souvenir -- don't get too many of those with a laser printer.


Posted by: DONNA | December 31, 2008 7:28 AM


Posted by: Alphonse Credenza | December 31, 2008 12:48 PM

"this is an argument for government health care."

Only if fantasizing about ideal administrative efficiency is a persuasive argument.

Bureaucracies, especially government, fail miserably in providing what they promise.

Need we go over this again? Can't everyone, far left included, count the failures?

Posted by: healthnut | December 31, 2008 7:46 PM

IN response to alphonse, I see what you mean that government would only fail us, I see that private sector doin great leaving 50 million without insurance. Now I understand. What you don't understand is when people have no healthcare they do nothing preventative because they cannot AFFORD it so then they go when it becomes catastrophic and then they go bankrupt and then you pay that back to the medical profession with higher fees, so because you are too cheap to pay for 50$ preventative stuff you get to pay hundreds of thousands a little later. Smart thinking.

Posted by: Walt | January 1, 2009 1:36 PM


You and the others should check re govt. pension insurance if the company and your pension go down the drain.

Not an expert, but believe most pensins are backed by the govt.


In my book, a major part of the problem is the health industry itself which is controlled by no one, certainly neither Lehman Bros or its union.

An example last year my wife had a leg vein operation, which was quoted by the doctor @$7,500. if the Medicare/HMO did not okay it.

Fortunately for us, the HMO did pay somewhat less than $2,000 and the net cost to us was $75.

In less that 15 minutes, my wife was anesthetised, operated on and was on the way home.

The doctor apparently was satisfied with the low payment from the HMO, and certainly neither he nor his nurses nor his office appear impoverished.

Joe Doakes, non-insured , would have had to shell out the full $7,500 in a similar instance, for the same operation.

Most of the vastly inflated health-care- cost problem is caused by the medical community itself, not outside mgmt. or Unions.

Posted by: where is the independent | January 1, 2009 2:42 PM

hey cedar hill and fedupwithliberal how come no questions on the fraud going on at Gateway Terminak reported in last weeks Advocate. IF this blog or the Register don't write about it we let millions in taxes get burried as businesses close and people go without work. did leham have more personalproperty tax han the terminal. Don't expect the city controlled blogs to fill you in read other sources. I gave the story to the author and this blog had a shot too, but ..

Posted by: Fedupwithliberals | January 1, 2009 7:29 PM


Sorry, I was on vacation that week and was having my cape cleaned for 2009. I don't think anyone but the most left of Yalie wing nuts read the Advocate, and would be suspect of anything they trumpet. If Paul is not interested in the story, then there must be nothing there.

As far as Lehman is concerned, I'm happy they've closed. For the 50 or so years I've lived next to them, they never put a penny into the neighborhood and bled that property dry. Maybe some upscale condo can be built on the land once that eyesore is razed.

Posted by: Sherry Mansfield | January 2, 2009 11:12 AM

I have worked for that company years ago when it was fully staffed. It was like a family in there alot of us had members of our family that wiorked for Lehaman Bros. I started out inspecting the work then I became a press operator. It was a very nice pplace to work. I feel very bad that it has gone out of business, my mom and my uncle worked there until they retired. It will be sad to go by and not see that business still there it has been there since iI can remember.

Posted by: Greg Lehman | January 3, 2009 8:56 PM

It is unfortunate to hear how quickly blame is placed when the closing of a business hurts so many. Owners, employees, vendors, customers and the community all suffer with such an occurrence. You can say it was poor management, union wages, health care expenses or the fact that Connecticut is the most expensive state country in which to do business. These may all contributing factors but technology has changed the printing business forever. Most people don't take the time sit down and write a note or letter. You simply send an email. It's instant and free.

I have fond memories of the pride both owners and employees took in creating beautiful stationary for the most prestigious companies in the country. Unfortunately times have changed and most companies worry more about the bottom line than loyalty to long time vendors or the value of handing out a finely engraved business card.

I am truly saddened about the closing of Lehman Brothers. Although I have not been involved with the company for several years I still think of it often. I have many great memories of times spent with family members and employees alike. Best wishes to all.


Gregory Lehman

Posted by: feeling betrayed [TypeKey Profile Page] | January 4, 2009 12:31 PM

Yes Greg Lehman, OWNERS and EMPLOYEES took great pride in creating beautiful stationary. However, the OWNERS being "THE PAST" owners. The current owners DID NOT! Albert, Elliot, Bruce Lehman - They were the one's that cared and the employees enjoyed working for!! Funny-even YOU didn't stick around!!

Posted by: where is the independent | January 4, 2009 6:29 PM

Fedup with liberals

Frank there is only truth to the story, you can read it online. The source is me, who grew up with you. The reporter is working to make the advocate more effective than thhis city controlled blog. Get the published personal property amounts. They are in the assessors office in hard bound books. gateway was found to have much more tha the assessed amount and the audit, done by a reliable firm, is being burried. We all are goatsville, so don't doubt me my friend.

Posted by: mike | January 5, 2009 9:38 AM

as a past employee the writing has been on the went from around a 130 employees to under 30 in 20 years.the printing business in general is folding up faster then you can count.i seen it coming & went out & got a job in a business other than printing.i suggest you do the same.

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