by Frances Edstrom
In 1970, after John had taught one year of English at Winona Junior High School, and I had worked at Peerless Chain Company as a bookkeeper, we moved to Seattle, where we lived for nine months while John went to graduate school, the sun shone once in three months during the long, wet winter, and billboards said "Will the last one to leave Seattle please turn off the lights!" In the spring, thoroughly waterlogged, we had decided that Winona was the place for us and we arrived back in town with high hopes but no job.
We worked that summer for Nick and Tom Edstrom and Dennis McGann in an underground lawn sprinkling business. But when frost threatened, no one wanted to put in a system, and the owners laid us off and we were on our own.
A friend of ours, Paul Blumentritt, who worked at the Hal Leonard Music Store, suggested that we do a Christmas flyer for all of the downtown merchants. John visited the Downtown Business Association, which received the idea with some enthusiasm, and so he began to go from business to business to sell the advertising for the flyer.
The response from the downtown merchants in the fluorescent light of their stores was not quite as enthusiastic as it had been at the Sunshine Bar, where they held their association meetings. It became evident that advertising would have to be sold to merchants on a citywide basis, and that we would have to arrange for design, layout, printing and distribution ourselves.
The only company in Winona at that time that could produce and distribute a newsprint tabloid piece, the Winona Daily News, turned down our idea, as it looked like competition. Meanwhile, in seeking out printers, we discovered that tabloid advertising pieces were put together not just for special retail events, but were a rapidly growing industry all over the country as weekly publications, called shoppers, tabvertizers, pennysavers and such.
On November 3, 1971, the first issue of the Winona Shopper appeared in the Winona area. The office of the new publication was in half of one room in the basement of the building at Fourth and Lafayette that now is occupied by Beno's Deli. John sold the advertising and
I did the bookkeeping. The layout and typesetting were done in Rochester at the Rochester
Shopper, printing in Red Wing at the Republican Eagle. Distribution was handled through the post office and by a distribution service headquartered in Iowa.
The first issue was printed on yellow newsprint and ran twelve pages. The cover was not sold to an advertiser, but featured a drawing by the late Mike Hull. Some advertisers in that first issue were: Nystrom Motors, Winona Furniture Co. (later Smith's Furniture), Morgan's Jewelers (then located at 111 Main St.), Winona Fire and Power, Merchants Bank, Tousley Ford (now Sugarloaf Ford), and R.D. Cone's Hardware. Others were: Graham and McGuire Sporting Goods, Mr. O's Cake and Egg Haus, Lee's Levee, Kresge's, The Winner's Circle, Steve's Lounge, and Budget Furniture.
During November and December, the new Winona Shopper did well. To introduce Winonans to the idea of running their classified ads in the new paper, they were offered free of charge, an offer met with great enthusiasm. But then the doldrums of January and February hit, and the Winona Shopper struggled to fill four pages of advertising. It soon became evident that moneysaving measures would have to be taken in order to survive. The word around town, we were told, was that the Winona Shopper would soon disappear. Fueling that rumor were the Winona Daily News sales reps, who did not want to see competition, of course, even as insignificant and inexperienced as it was. One of their moves was to send a letter to our advertisers letting them know we were not a union shop — all two of us.
John’s father, Harold, tried to help by making us bring him our profit and loss statements — weekly. But what we needed was someone to shine some light on what it was we had to do to save ourselves. John came home one day to our rented farmhouse near Lewiston and said we would have to declare bankruptcy. I said I had read somewhere that 80% of new businesses go out of business in the first year, simply because they didn’t hang on long enough. I also figured if we had to go bankrupt, what did it matter if we owed $1,000 or $100,000. We would still probably have to leave Winona.
So we decided to slog on. Harold asked his brother, Ev, to give us a pep talk. He took us to lunch, and asked how much we paid for printing, how much for delivery, how much for someone to do our graphics work. We told him. “Well, there you are,” he said. Just do all that yourself, and you’ll be making money instead of losing money. “But we don’t know how,” we whined. “Then learn!” he said, picked up the check and left.
The first step towards a more economical operation was to move from the Iowa distribution firm to an in-house system. Julia McRae, of Winona, set up the system of carriers that is still used today. My children all had paper routes, and I was forced to fill in when carriers quit without notice. The Winona Shopper offices moved to new quarters on the second floor at 52-1/2 East Third Street, where the first office furniture consisted of a card table, two folding chairs, a cardboard file cabinet and a vinyl and metal couch in the waiting room for customers who had to catch their breath after the climb up the stairs. There was also a crib, in which our first child, Cassidy, took up residence in the mornings. She spent the afternoons with her grandmother, Jo Edstrom.
The next step was to set up an in-house art department. I carefully watched the people in the graphic arts department at the Rochester Shopper as they put our paper together and was surprised at how easily it was done. Jeanne Mueller, Dave Wood, and Mark Scholl were the first Winona Shopper artists, and I was a graphic artist, as well. With the addition of the art department, new furniture, consisting of a few hollow doors placed over file cabinets and two drafting tables, was added. Not only did the art department add a new dimension to the Winona Shopper operation, it also filled up the room enough to stop the echo in the office, which was particularly noticeable over the telephone. Prospective advertisers, when contacted by phone would invariably ask "Where are you calling from? It sounds like you're in a tunnel!"
Printing was moved from Red Wing to Crescent Printing in LaCrosse, because of the savings in drive time, and we took over delivery of the pages to the printer and then the papers back to Winona to save money. We bought an orange and white Jeep four-wheel drive pickup with a homemade topper for the job. It also served as a second car for us. We hired college kids to do the driving. Only Stevie Wiltgen, now a teacher at Winona Senior High, ever got a speeding ticket in the thing, which amazed everyone.
Next the office moved from Third Street to the basement of the Edstrom home at 464 Dacota Street. A secretary-bookkeeper was added to the staff, Mary Norton, (later to become Mary Uphoff), and the first hired salesman was Jim Hogue Jr., followed by Lou Sayers and Karl Finkelnberg. In addition to ad sales, it was also their duty to kill the bats, which were not evicted easily.
The basement office was quickly outgrown by the addition of phototypesetting machines and a commercial camera to the art department. Up until that time, we set type on an IBM Selectric, and a rather primitive headline typesetter called a strip printer that required that type be developed in three little bottles in total darkness. The new office was in the old Bub's Brewery office building, in the shadow of Sugar Loaf, but once again in the basement. Upstairs was a now-defunct real estate office, Metro Valley Realty. That building was torn down and the Nichols Hotel now stands on the spot.
With the acquisition of typesetting equipment, the copy camera and a small printing press, Rush Press was born, and the Winona Shopper began to print letterheads, business forms, and the like.
Growing, the Winona Shopper moved its offices to 56 E. Second Street in 1974. I was pregnant with our second child, Morgan, and our plan was for me to retire and stay at home with the two kids. I hired a person to take over my job editing and doing layout. But while I was still training her, and only a couple of weeks from delivering a baby, she quit because she got a job at Winona State. However, her start at WSU was delayed, leaving her with no income, so she brought a sexual discrimination suit against us. First, however, she had to go through the Winona Human Rights Commission. A representative came to question me, and when she found out that her complaint was that she was not going to be paid as much as the man who ran the printing press, the suit was dismissed. A competent press operator would command more money than she anywhere in town. Plus, he had seniority.
So I was back to work full-time, and that’s how I learned to be “second man” on newspaper presses. Two units of Harris V-15A presses were installed in May of 1977 in the basement below the offices, and Rush Press began printing its own papers, plus newsprint publications such as other shoppers, weekly newspapers from surrounding towns, the Winona Diocesan newspaper, The Courier, the WSU newspaper, the Winonan, and inserts and flyers for commercial customers. The first pressman for the newsprint presses was Mike Schultz, who began at the Winona Shopper in 1974 as a part-time truck driver and moved up to Production Manager. He and Linda Lewis and Mark King comprised the art department as well. I learned how to make page negatives, plates for the printing press, help fill the ink trays, put plates on the press and string the web. I was the best “paper catcher” we’ve ever had, able to snatch the papers as they raced off the press onto a conveyor belt, count them into twenty-fives, and stack them for the mail room workers to take away. I also shared an office, a desk and a phone with John.
On February 11, 1978, we made the move to a weekly newspaper with the publication of the Saturday Morning Post, at the urging of our salesman, Dave Galchutt, who thought it would sell more advertising. Until then, we had done a little writing in the Winona Shopper, but we were anxious to do more. The Post contained a feature story, at first written by either John or myself, usually of some historic interest. We included other community news, plus play and movie reviews, and sports coverage, including Bowler of the Week, in which local top bowlers were featured. Bowler of the Week was written by Patrick P. Marek, a student at St. Mary's College, who came to work full time for the Winona Shopper after graduation in 1980. He is now Vice President of Sales and Marketing at the Post.
Writers who contributed on a freelance basis included Orval Lund, Marjorie Dorner, Emilio De Grazia, David Robinson, Reggie McLeod, Ivan Kubista, Kent Cowgill, and others.
The Circulation Department was established in 1977, headed by Cheryl Merrill Degnan. At that time, we mapped all the rural routes and hired drivers, so we wouldn’t have to rely on the Post Office to deliver the papers. John and I have driven rural routes, too, to see how long it should take for a driver to deliver a route. At first we installed only hooks, on which the drivers had to hang the paper in a plastic bag. One of our first drivers was Henry Kramer, whose wife always went with him. Henry was a farmer, and once when a sow was neglecting her new piglets, he brought them along on the route, too. We know that because he brought them into the office in a cardboard box to show us. After a few years, we went to red plastic tubes, which we now use exclusively.
In June of 1982, it was decided to merge the Saturday Morning Post, which had only been circulated in Winona and Goodview, with the Winona Shopper, then distributed to every household in eighteen communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota, in addition to Winona and Goodview. The Winona Shopper and Post, a community newspaper with a circulation of 23,858, hit the streets on June 30, 1982.
The Winona Shopper and Post was designed to bring the essential community news to an area roughly thirty miles around Winona. The feature story, play and movie reviews, park recreation information and arts and entertainment news were all retained from the Saturday Morning Post. More community news from civic groups, nonprofit organizations and clubs was added from the towns in our larger circulation area. I tell prospective employees that our goal is to bring all the community news that people in our circulation area need to be fully engaged citizens of the community — whether it is government news, school lunch news, or what’s on sale in the meat department.
In 1983, The Winona Shopper and Post became recognized by the state of Minnesota as a legal newspaper, able to run legal notices and to bid on the legal business of area municipalities and school districts,. The Post was only the second free circulation newspaper in the state of Minnesota to gain this distinction.
Winona City Council, Winona County, and District 861 School Board news were soon added, in addition to obituaries and hospital news. A food and wine column, featuring the noted Jacques Aulotte, was initiated, and the Winona Shopper and Post began to publish a Christmas Cookbook for its readers. The Shopper and Post has run a football contest and Vikings column for many years, adding a Packers column to appeal to our Wisconsin readers. During the years that the Shopper and Post has published, it has garnered many awards for excellence in writing and advertising.
Growth in advertising space and news coverage prompted the investment in two more newspaper press units in December of 1984, reducing the number of sections that needed to be run and enabling Rush Press to begin printing four-color work, which it did for the first time that Christmas.
Through the first half of 1985, it became evident that the Winona Shopper and Post had outgrown the tabloid format that it began with fourteen years previously. That year as well, Bill and Dare White sold the Winona Daily News, which had been in the White family since 1903, when Horace Greeley White came to Winona to take over the Winona Independent. In order to bring Winona Shopper and Post readers and advertisers a bigger and better community newspaper, the paper was printed in a "broadsheet" format for the first time on November 27, 1985.
At the same time, as the Winona Daily News was now owned by an out-of-town chain publisher, the Winona Post began to position itself as the community newspaper of the area. We hired more reporters, photographers, and began to editorialize on a regular basis.
In 1989 we expanded to two issues a week, both free circulation, to which we were committed. That year we also moved to 64 E. Second Street, and in 1991 we bought four buildings in downtown Winona, occupying the basement and second floor of all four buildings, the first floor of one, and renting the other three store fronts. We also computerized the news, art, printing, and business functions of the paper. The first news computers were little Macs about the size of a four-pack of toilet paper with a screen the size of a large paperback novel. One of the women in the art department was so nervous about transferring art functions to computer that she wouldn’t let us move out her enormous (about four feet by three feet) phototypesetting machine when we set up her computer. In a matter of weeks, however, she was nagging at the boys from the basement to “move the thing out of here.” And she never looked back.
That year we also changed our name to the Winona Post but we added back the “and Shopper” when the Daily News started a free circulation flyer they intended to call The Winona Shopper. They backed off after a letter from our lawyer, and we dropped the name Shopper before too long. We’ve been the Winona Post ever since, except to our detractors, who must think “the shopper” sounds bad, and to the sort of people who still call Winona State University the Teachers College.
There is much talk about how the newspaper is dead. But people who are old enough will tell you that when television came along, radio was supposed to die, and when the Internet came along, television was supposed to die. Paid circulation newspapers are having a hard time, it is true. But there are many reasons, not just the Internet, which in reality plays a small part. (Although we never did think that giving away your content on the Internet before your paper hits the streets was a very smart way to run a newspaper. Our web site is updated after the paper is delivered.)
Newspapers which were family owned in a community, from New York and Washington to Winona, were bought out by newspaper syndicates, which took the control and the dollars out of the community. From there, an even worse thing happened to newspapers, as they were bought like commodities by people with money but no journalism experience. The bottom line became king, and in order to achieve it, the corporate office began to make cuts that had an enormous impact on how much news could be gathered and published. As a result, subscriptions were lost and circulation fell. In print media, circulation is everything, and it is what advertisers buy.
When the Winona Shopper started in business forty years ago, the Winona Daily News had a circulation of 23,000 plus. Today they have a circulation under 10,000 on Sundays, usually the biggest day. And some might say that is doing pretty well, compared to places where the daily newspaper has gone to twice a week, like Red Wing, or has disappeared altogether.
Free circulation, on the other hand, does not rely on subscription sales. So our circulation doesn’t fall in hard economic times, such as the recent recession. We rely on advertiser dollars and advertisers rely on us to get their message out with the largest print circulation to all the households in the area. As a free circulation legal newspaper, the state requires us to not only be audited for receivership, that is, who actually receives our paper, but readership, how many of those who get it read it. Of the 95.7% of people who say they get the paper twice a week, 88% say they read it regularly, which gives us more than twice the reading circulation of the Winona Daily News in a radius of about thirty miles around Winona.
The Internet has not replaced the community newspaper for several reasons. First, the Winona Post comes to you twice a week. Readers and buyers can look through to see what retailers are offering. Advertising can suggest purchases. Shoppers don’t have to go to a special website to search for something they already know they want. No one has yet come up with a way to advertise on the Internet that works effectively for local advertisers, from the little shops that want to advertise a sale, to the large grocery stores, auto dealers, and discount stores that want to advertise to a specific demographic. The Internet is a great asset to shoppers who want to find out more about a product, and it has pretty much destroyed the classified ads in some markets, but it still can’t deliver a toy catalog to every household in the Winona area from Fleet Farm.
Internet news organizations rely almost exclusively on newspapers and, to an extent, radio and television, to generate anything approximating local news. Fox or Yahoo doesn’t bring you Winona school board news or area obituaries. Local Internet news sites are operated with grant money and private donations, not advertising, and those sources are hard to rely on in this, or any, economy.
The Winona Post has come a long way from the mom and pop organization it began with in 1971, and forty years later employs over twenty-five full time people, another twenty-five in the mail room, 104 foot carriers and 26 rural route drivers who bring the paper twice a week to nearly 24,000 households. Body copy