After 45 years in Northern California, Pomegranate Press is moving its warehouse and offices to a 100,000 sq. ft. building in Portland, Ore.— both as a cost-saving measure and as a means of returning to an urban environment. “Over the years, we’ve moved the company further and further north of San Francisco as Pomegranate grew, and rents near the city became more expensive,” explained publisher Katie Burke. Most recently the company has been based in Petaluma, 35 miles from San Francisco. “This is a good town, but it’s pricey. One of the things we’ve missed is being in an urban setting, and Portland will definitely offer that.” The lease on the new building is more affordable than those that the press considered in California.
Pomegranate was founded as a notebook and poster distribution company in San Francisco during the psychedelic art explosion in the late ’60s. As a young man, Tom Burke, Katie’s husband and Pomegranate president, sold posters out of the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom, working with East Totem West and other poster companies. Katie joined Pomegranate in 1975, and the company’s first calendars were published a few years later. Fine art and contemporary illustration books were added to the line, as well as stationery items—notecards, postcards, journals, and bookmarks—and children’s books and puzzles. For many years calendars accounted for more than 50% of Pomegranate’s sales. “There’s been a shift on calendar sales, though, because of the changing market. Today those sales are 35% of our total earnings,” Katie said. Despite that drop, Pomegranate is publishing 112 calendar titles for 2014, and Katie estimated that the company has sold 25 million units since 2000. Domestic distribution is handled in-house; Pomegranate uses commission sales reps for the book and gift trades in the U.S. and a distributor in England for European sales.
The move to Portland is already in progress; Pomegranate must vacate its current warehouse by March 31. “When I joined the company in 1975 we had a dozen employees,” Katie said. “Today we have 36 people on staff, many of them here for 10 or 20 years. It’s sad for us that only six employees will be coming with us to Portland.” Several staffers have found new positions in the Petaluma area. Tom’s son Darius, senior director for the press, will join the Burkes in the move. The new hires already in place in Portland include an operations manager, warehouse manager, and accounts payable director, and interviews for additional staff positions are ongoing.
“Pomegranate is doing great,” Katie said. “We do 10 to 20 [book] titles a year, and will be adding more children’s books and kid’s products soon.” She is optimistic that “the time is right for a resurgence of specialty shops, including bookstores. Consumers are understanding the importance of a healthy neighborhood retail scene.”
Among the artists Pomegranate publishes are Edward Gorey, Georgia O’Keefe, M.C. Escher, Carl Larsson, and Norman Rockwell, and the press collaborates with institutions such as the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian, and the British Library for books and stationery items. Pomegranate initiates books in a few different ways. Besides the museum collaborations, some are inspired by art it has published as paper gift products. “We see that an artist’s work is selling well as notecards, jigsaw puzzles, etc. and then know there’s an audience for that artist—so we publish a book.” Two recent examples are William S. Rice and Robert Bissell. Pomegranate also publishes books that come in over the transom or through agents.
“I didn’t think I would leave California before retiring,” Katie said about the move, “but I’m discovering that making a change this big as I turn 60 is invigorating and energizing.”