Sontag, a 1985 business school and 1991 M.B.A. graduate, was at the top of a banking career when he decided he had enough. So he walked away from a six-figure income and found a new challenge in the dying bookbinding industry. He and a partner figured they could succeed by focusing on small specialty orders.
“We opened in January 2004 and we’re ahead of where we projected,” Sontag says. Most clients, who find John Galt on the Internet, have special requests—leather bindings, copper nameplates, boxes with clamshell lids. Sontag restores family Bibles and makes diploma covers, but he doesn’t do vinyl or anything that’s mass-produced.
One of the more exotic orders was from Tiffany & Co. for 3,000 designer boxes that hold a loose-leaf catalog of diamond jewelry for an exclusive Japanese market. They’ve also made 500 calendar books for the Hyatt Regency’s new resort in Aspen, Colo., featuring copper faceplates and stitched suede covers. And they’ve made black slip cases for a Stephen King special edition collection.
Sontag is grateful for the antique machines. Despite being obsolete, he says, they’re more useful now than ever.