local icon prints its latest T-shirts | New

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A Monroe County family business that has been an integral part of the community for over 30 years will soon be closing. Steve’s T-Screens designs and prints these special t-shirts that unite Mary Persons teammates and fans, announce family reunions, support recreation team players, identify church events or proclaim a team Relay For Life with a special hometown twist.

Steve Mason said he heard there was screen printing equipment for sale and decided to buy it in 1986 or 1987. He worked at Star Printing and figured he shouldn’t be difficult for him to learn to print T-shirts. He said he learned that t-shirt printing is actually the reverse of other types of printing in most of his procedures. Instead of a negative, you make a positive.

Steve opened his business in 1988, and it has operated steadily since then from 14 E. Johnston Street in Forsyth. Steve’s T-Screens operated side-by-side with Star Printing until the 65-year-old business closed in May 2020. Steve co-owned Star Printing with Shelly Shuman.

Steve said the main thing that caused him to close Steve’s T-Screens was the difficulty in getting T-shirts printed. He said there has been an industry-wide shortage of T-shirts since last year. For example, Dena, Steve’s wife, said that a customer needed 10 one-pocket shirts of any color, just so they were all the same color. Dena contacted several suppliers. She eventually found one in Pittsburgh that had 10 shirts of the same color available; that was out of its 40 color options. She said that when she tries to order 800 to 900 shirts for a customer, she is lucky to get half that amount.

“The shortage of T-shirts is unbelievable,” Dena said. “I never thought I would see the light of day.”

Once the couple made the decision to retire, they put their building up for sale and posted it on Facebook, thinking it would take a few months to sell. It sold within two hours and the next morning there were four people at the door wanting to make offers on the building.

Now they have to be out by July 1st and they have to pack many things that have been in the building for years. Star Printing moved to 14 E. Johnston Street 40 years before it closed. Steve’s T-Screens is truly a family business. He and his wife, Neva, opened it. The children Candy, Leslie, Tiffany and Trey all worked in the business, along with a few nieces. Dena worked alongside Steve at T-Screens for 26 years. The newest family addition to the business was granddaughter Marie McManus, whose work was greatly appreciated.

Candy remembers spending many nights on the town printing shirts, growing the business. She did bindery work at Star Printing and managed and did everything that needed to be done at T-Screens until she graduated from college in 2003.

Steve said he has also employed many Mary Persons students over the years as part of the school’s distributive education program. He said he’s been a fan of hiring football players since filming Bulldogs games for coach Dan Pitts for 30 years. But he said girls were always the best workers. He said they seemed to get more involved in the work and didn’t mind getting dirty.

“Screen cleaning can sometimes be a dirty, messy job,” Steve said.

Steve said he and David Hopper filmed Mary Persons football games for Coach Pitts from 1973 to 2003. He said Pitts enjoyed his film, rewinding and replaying segments over and over as he studied the games. He continued to do service for the football program until he could no longer get film for his equipment.

Steve graduated from Mary Persons. His parents moved to Monroe County from North Carolina when he was four months old. He attended Upson Technical School, got a drafting design certification, and was offered a good job in Carrollton, but decided he wanted to stay in Monroe County. He took a job with Bob and Shelly Schuman at Star Printing and never left.

Asked about his favorite t-shirts from the thousands of designs he has printed, Steve thought of the walking dog for Mary Persons and the Backyard Brawl t-shirts saying “We’re not talking trash; we burn it. He said some of Mary Persons cheerleader shirts were fun to design. Steve acknowledged that he also designed many shirts for Jackson High School.

He said he hated the yellow gold that was used on Mary Persons shirts and worked to find old gold ink. He said he put a Mary Persons helmet on the table and started mixing ink to find the right shade. He noted that although many people refer to t-shirt designs as paint, they are made with ink.

“Steve is the genius of the artwork. Everything is custom made,” Dena said. “Steve sits for hours and comes up with the design.”

“I try not to do the same, even when asked to copy a design,” he said. “Being creative is fun, but sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes I stop and go around the block.

Currently, T-Screens’ biggest customer is Juliette’s stores. He’s been producing Fried Green Tomato shirts for 10-12 years and says it’s amazing how many t-shirts are sold at Juliette. He said he was watching national news coverage of a hurricane in multiple states and spotted one of his Fried Green Tomato shirts on the interviewee.

Steve said his Juliette customers cried when he told them he was closing the T screens. He decided to set up his equipment in his garden and continue printing Fried Green Tomato shirts but more people. What else does he plan to do when he retires? Go fishing, of course. He said he likes to fish and hasn’t done it for years.

Steve said he and Dena are very involved with the Moose Lodge and will continue to donate time to fundraisers and other volunteer opportunities at the Lodge. He noted that the Lodge raised $17,000 last Christmas to ensure all children in Monroe County had Christmas presents. Dena said the Moose Lodge operates a children’s home in Illinois and a retirement home in Florida, while serving many local needs. She said fundraising for children is great fun.

“I have seen a lot of changes. I remember when we were pretty much the only business on the street,” Steve said. “It’s going to be sad when we make the last positive [for a T-shirt design.]”

He said there have been disappointments and high 5s over the years and he would do it again.

“Once that ink is under your fingernails, you can’t help it,” he said.

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