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St. Pete Emeritus: Al Karnavicius

Bill DeYoung



After 42 years in business, Bayprint's Founder and President Al Karnavicius is retiring. Photos by Bill DeYoung.

According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary, the title Emeritus is bestowed upon “a person retired from professional life but permitted to retain as an honorary title the rank of the last office held.” St. Pete Emeritus is a recurring series shining a light on citizens who have given much to our city, and are now transitioning to a well-deserved retirement.

In 1982, struggling real estate agent Al Karnavicius switched careers, opening a print-on-demand shop on 2nd Avenue South in downtown St. Petersburg. Bayprint’s beginnings were humble: Just Al, one employee and a state-of-the-art (well, he paid $70,000 for it) Xerox machine that could turn out 70 black and white copies per minute.

“The location was good,” observes the good-natured businessman, “but it was a day-week-month hotel building, and we had a little retail space at the bottom of it. There were all kinds of characters that lived there, and slept there in our doorway sometimes.” For the first year, all they did was make copies – black and white copies – for the customers who wandered in.

Today’s Bayprint is a full-service provider that works with large clients (the Tampa Bay Rays, Raymond James and the Chamber of Commerce, for example) and small, and prints signs, banners, exhibits and trade show displays, window graphics, essential print and mail, business cards, promotional products and more.

After 42 years in business, Karnavicius sold Bayprint in April, and has officially retired. “I’m 73,” he says. “Time to go.”

Al and Nancy Karnavicius.

He and his wife, Nancy (she joined the company in the mid ‘80s, not so long after they acquired the first public access color copier in the city, and a two-color printing press) intend to travel, visit friends, bucket-list stuff. Anything that does not involve printing.

Not that he’s tired of it, you understand. “If I was younger and had 10 or 15 years in front of me,” he insists, “I’d stay right here doing exactly what I’m doing.”

In 1997, Karnavicius served as president of the 3,000-member national printing trade association PrintImage International. Four years later, the group named him Printer of the Year.

His success, he believes, was the direct result of dedication to customer service.

A ubiquitous cartoon hanging on American shop and office walls depicts several people doubled over with laughter, with the caption “You want it when?” Karnavicius says the old-school printers seemed – to him – to live by that expression.

“We didn’t think that was very funny. We thought that people should get something as quickly as they can … so we out-serviced everybody else. They may have known more about the technical aspects of printing – although we knew quite a bit – but they didn’t know anything about customer service. So we smoked everybody.”

Although “quick-print” shops existed in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that they proliferated around the country. “The industry came as a solution for people that needed little jobs printed,” Karnavicius says. “And the only avenue they had was to go to a large commercial printer; you had to beg him to lower himself to do your little dinky job. For a lot of money.”

Commercial printers used cast metal plates, and big machines, and pumped out thousands of copies at a stretch. “So when quick printing came around, there was a huge, pent-up demand for that kind of thing.”

It was 1985 when he bought the shop’s first PC (“for an incredibly large amount of money”) with a whopping 10 megabyte hard drive. A year later, Bayprint had outgrown its first home, and the business relocated to a larger building, adjacent to where Tropicana Field was being constructed.

They’d remain there for the next 21 years.

Always, they tried to keep ahead of the curve by bringing in the newest, most technologically advanced hardware in the business: A Canon Color Laser Copier in 1988, an in-house typesetter in 1990, a digital imagesetter in 1993, a Xerox 5390 High-Speed Copier and computer-to-plate imaging in 1994.

The only constant in life, the old saying goes, is change.

“A lot of the products we used to produce were replaced by pdf files, internet, cell phones, email, texting,” explains Karnavicius. “All of those things used to be a big part of our bread and butter. We used to have one customer that would print a million letterheads a year with a private label watermark in the paper, which we had done at the mill where the paper was made. That was just one customer out of many who bought letterheads from us back then.

“Last year, I don’t think we printed 25,000 letterheads for all of our customers combined. People don’t send letters in envelopes any more, and that used to be a big deal. So we had to shift: ‘Well OK, this isn’t gonna work any more, let’s do something else.’”

They tried a few different solutions, with no success. “What really worked for us was going into what the industry calls wide format: Signs, banners, displays, exhibits, those kind of things. And boom, that took off. And our learning curve wasn’t that difficult, to learn how to do it and do it well.”

In 2008, the Rays went to the World Series for the first time. “That year was a budget-buster for them – they just went crazy,” he recalls. “So we were blinded to the fact that the economy was sliding, because our Number One client was spending a lot of money.”

Next the recession hit, and “we almost went under. We lost six of our top 10 clients. And not because they went to somebody else, because they evaporated.”

The top clients that stuck it out are extremely valued customers; more like partners, really. “We do best with corporations that have multiple offices, or they have a couple thousand employees, people that need things done.

“And low price is not necessarily at the top of the list. They need it done because there’s a meeting, and it’s a two billion dollar deal, and they don’t really care if the banner costs $10 or $11. But they gotta have it on Tuesday in New York. We do that.”

As usual, there’s a laugh in there somewhere. “We save people’s butts every day. The printing is a sideline.”

Bayprint moved to the current location, 2235 16th Avenue N. (“1.5 miles from downtown”), in 2007. Production Manager Brian Genther and Graphic Artist/Wide Format Specialist Dan Trudeau came aboard in 2017. 

Nancy’s pre-retirement title was Vice President, Finance, while her husband was listed as Founder and President. They’re both sticking around Bayprint for a while, to help the new owners with the transition.

One thing Al Karnavicius is holding on to is his title as Honorary Consul of Lithuania. He was born in Chicago to Lithuanian parents who fled Eastern Europe during World War II (he has a younger brother, Rimas). The family moved to St. Petersburg when Al was 7.

He is a Boca Ciega High School graduate, class of ’69, and has a BA in Arts, Mass Communication from the University of South Florida.

Karnavicius is proud of his heritage. There are many St. Petersburg residents of Lithuanian descent, and Honorary Consul, while it’s a volunteer position, is authorized and sanctioned by the Lithuanian government and the U.S. Department of State.

He’s the main point of contact for Lithuanian citizens who need information, directions or advice. (He does not, however, have regular consulate duties like issuing passports.) He promotes his country’s culture. “I’m kind of like an ambassador, with a lower-case a,” he says with a smile.

Al and Nancy Karnavicius are well-known locally for their volunteerism, and their service on numerous boards over the years. It was, in a way, part of their business strategy. “We used the company as a vehicle to help organizations or causes,” he says. “Everybody needs some fliers printed, or they need a discount, or they need something. We still do it. And I think it comes back around double, it always does.

“It’s hard to explain to somebody that’s just getting started in business: ‘You need to think about giving stuff away.’ ‘What?! You gotta be kidding me.’”

They’ve been involved with American Stage, Brookwood, Executive Women’s Golf Association, Florida Craftsmen, Kiwanis, St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Arts Center.

“At one point in time, Nancy and I were on the boards of directors, at the same time, of six nonprofit organizations. And presidents of four of them.”

The couple’s new “life simplification” plan does not include any more board work. “You can go crazy,” Karnavicius believes, “because your calendar just fills up. It looks like a ransom note.”

























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  1. Avatar

    Suzanne Wismer

    May 9, 2024at8:47 am

    Great people. Great article.
    Thank you Al and Nancy.
    Congratulations on your retirement!
    Suzanne and Sandy

  2. Avatar

    Al Karnavicius

    May 5, 2024at9:50 am

    Thanks for the kind words, all! It was certainly a team effort…none of it would have lasted without having Nancy as a true partner in all of it. The most remarkable thing of all was being married and in business together for all those years…the folks who have done that successfully (and who are still married) belong to a very small club!

  3. Avatar

    Rick Vaughn

    May 5, 2024at7:21 am

    Al was one of the first people I met when I started with the Devil Rays in 1996 and his help was invaluable. Still a great friend.

  4. Avatar

    Scott Simmons

    May 5, 2024at1:24 am

    Hey Al, I remember when you opened. Downtown certainty was different in those days. Remember when City Center was a big deal? I am 73 and retired this century. Happily living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico writing and producing videos. Come look me up or check out my YouTube channel, Cast Of Characters Live. Best to Nancy.

  5. Avatar


    May 4, 2024at11:00 pm

    Al, thank you for all you do and have done to help not-for-profits in St. Petersburg. I doubt you’ll go softly into the night…

  6. Avatar

    Roger Prinse

    May 4, 2024at5:28 pm

    I went to Bogie with Al. Great guy. He should run for president!

  7. Scott Wagman

    Scott Wagman

    May 4, 2024at2:44 pm

    Al and Nancy are true icons of St. Petersburg. Our city is better because of their active involvement in so many organizations.
    Thank you Al and Nancy.

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