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Friday, February 13, 2009

Day Trip: Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory Tour

I’m surprised when I hear of women of a certain age (i.e. a few years past egg donation age) who don’t know Mrs. Grossman’s stickers. These are the stickers that started the sticker business. Does Stickers by the Yard ring a bell? Bring back any memories? I spent a lot of my allowance on these cute stickers of hearts, bears, clouds, crocodiles, jelly beans and more.

So when I found out that Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory is not only in the Bay Area but open to the public, I had to go. And drag my kids of course. They’ve grown up with stickers, but just don’t appreciate for what Mrs. Grossman did for the industry. Fortunately I do!

We went to the factory in Petaluma on a weekday when the kids had no school.
The tour starts in the waiting area, which has a year-by-year display of stickers produced in that time frame. Ah, the nostalgia of looking at the first few years, starting in 1979, with the stickers I remember best. I even have some of the originals at home – and all but the ducks are still in good shape. The kids got a bit antsy waiting, so we had them choose their favorite stickers on the walls - this ate up a good five minutes.

We headed into the video room, where we listened to Angus, Mrs. Grossman’s dog, narrate the 20 minute film. The kids liked the movie, which explained how the stickers are designed, the dies made, print plates developed, and how the stickers are printed and packaged.
A few facts:
**Each roll of stickers is 5,000 feet long.
**The printers are 150 feet long from the beginning to the end of the printing process.
**They only buy 11 colors of ink, and then custom mix them.
**They are the only company in the world with a laser that specially cuts some of the stickers (and you can tell they’re laser cut because the back of the sticker is slightly brown).
**The laser shoots out 10,000 degrees of heat (hotter than the sun), and sparks fly during the process.
**They make 58 million sheets of stickers a year, and 12 million packages.
**They print their own bar codes for the sticker packages.

After the video, we took a 20 minute tour through the factory. On Fridays (when we went), the sticker machines are not running (we saw some getting cleaned, and the smell of ammonia was strong). However we did notice a lot of wine labels, making us wonder what kind of operation they were running! It turns out there are two companies there – Mrs. Grossman’s Stickers and Paragon Labels, for wine (I won’t name their customers, but we did see labels for a famous film director who has his own winery).

The company prides itself on being a company with heart, which is evident in their actions. We saw some employees packaging some stickers by hand, and they were individuals with mental disabilities. The company allows employees to bring their (well-behaved) dogs to work. And they give tons of stickers to children’s hospitals. They showed us some of the thank you notes at the end of the tour. They also recycle their sticker waste into pellets that burn clean fuel.

After the factory floor tour, they led us at last into the craft room, where they gave each of us a package of random stickers (a couple dollars worth) and a postcard to make a project. The kids had a great time trading stickers and designing postcards. We were the last ones in there.

Of course we ended up at the company store. They have a good selection, not surprisingly, as well as a great sale area with discontinued stickers. We stocked up.

As for other things to do in Petaluma, I checked Petaluma’s website but didn’t see much of interest for a wet, winter day. One friend suggested I look into egg farms, but that didn’t happen.

Wikipedia listed some interesting facts, like parts of the films American Graffiti, Cujo, Basic Instinct and Howard the Duck were filmed here. Petaluma also hosted the world arm wrestling championship from 1952-2003. Film critic Pauline Kael was born here. Sadly the city is probably best known as the place Polly Klass was abducted.

It turns out that the Jelly Belly Factory is only 30-40 minutes away in Fairfield. If I realized it was this close, we would have done a double header and hit them both in one day. We did a Jelly Belly “factory tour” in Wisconsin, and I’m still steaming mad that it wasn’t actually a factory tour, but rather a warehouse tour. The boxes of jelly bellies were stacked on the inside, and the little train taking us around the perimeter had us look at exhibits on the walls. That didn’t stop me from purchasing the candy at the company store, which I guess is their point, but I still want to tour the actual factory.

As for Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory, they offer tours Monday - Friday. Apparently the tour costs $3 a person (and includes a $3 coupon for the company store), but no one mentioned money while we were there, or during the phone reservation.
Now I'm off to trade stickers with my kids.


  1. I love your day trips blog posts. I've been to Mrs Grossmans, and to the Jelly Belly factory, but I have't yet been to the Fitzgerald Reserve--I'm adding it to my to-do list. Thanks!

  2. Mrs. Grossman's is having a Warehouse sale on Friday June 26, 2009 from 9-5:30
    Tons of Stickers and loads of bargains!