By Dolores Eyler
Two and a half decades ago, in the summer of ’96, I was approached by a group of active Rye volunteers, who asked me if I would start a community newsletter to cover the activities of Rye’s many nonprofit organizations.
As a veteran newspaper reporter, I was not interested in producing a newsletter but said I would be happy to start a town paper, if I had the strong support of those very organizations. They heartily agreed, and thus, The Rye Record was born.
In the beginning, there were four of us: Ellen Cacciapaglia, Judy Groves, Sherry Toplyn, and me.
Ellen, the mother of four very active children, seemed to know everyone in town. She became the Business Manager. Canadian-transplant Judy, who certainly was more computer-competent than the rest of us, was our Production Manager. Sherry, fresh from California and married to a writer for “The David Letterman Show”, was an experienced journalist herself.
By August, we developed a mock-up, full of actual local stories, but on cheap paper and Xeroxed. Aided by Steve Moynihan, our first Advertising Director, we showed the sample to Rye merchants and realtors seeking potential advertising support. Again, we received great encouragement.
In November, the first real issue of The Rye Record was published, with the exciting, above-the-fold news of the Rye Garnets win over the Harrison Huskies, an unusual football feat in those days.
From the very first, our concentration was purposely and only on Rye. While national newspapers were collapsing from lack of readership, local papers were thriving, as readers wanted to see their own children, friends, activities, and sports in print. A somewhat later, but immediately popular addition was The Police Blotter, where we omitted names and house numbers, but included street locations. I was frequently asked about that and explained that Rye is a very small town. Occasionally, I would get a call asking me to keep a police incident out of the paper. Once, for a very sad domestic situation, I did.
Other favorites were Pet of the Month and Slice of Rye, featuring a local resident. I have always believed that absolutely everyone has a story to tell.
One bright September morning, I was interviewing Westchester County Legislator (now County Executive) George Latimer in the basement of City Hall. In the corner of the room hung a television, which soon aired the image of a plane, crashing into the World Trade Center. The sky was too blue and the weather too perfect for us not to realize it was purposeful. “Mark my words, the world will change from this day on,” Latimer said. Our interview was finished.
Our skeleton crew quickly grew into an enthusiastic staff of reporters and photographers, all of whom met in my Milton Point kitchen to exchange ideas and suggestions and take on assignments for the coming edition. We turned out copy in our individual homes. For a long time, we only published monthly, and have always sent it free to every household in Rye, as well as leaving copies around town. Thank you, Rye advertisers.
In January 1998, Allen Clark joined the staff, eventually becoming part-owner and co-publisher. His writing skills were surpassed only by his business acumen, which took the paper to a whole new level.
A few months later, veteran journalist Robin Jovanovich started writing and taking photographs for the paper, beginning her long association with The Rye Record. For many years now, she has been the energetic and omnipresent majority owner and publisher.
And still, it is The News of Rye and its People. For Rye. By Rye.
There are three things in my life of which I am most proud – my three sons, completing the New York City Marathon (yes, you can walk much of it!), and starting The Rye Record. What an honor.
Early Days at the Paper
By Allen Clark
The initial issue was a tabloid, 20 pages, black and white, with 28 ads (mostly small), including two from the founders’ families. In September 1997, the paper changed format and design. It was lengthened from 14” to 17”. Working with Cara Barnhardt, who was laying out the issues in her living room, I did a column-by-column analysis of The New York Times and applied it to The Rye Record.
The page-one masthead featuring the City Hall cupola was designed by Cara’s husband, Steve Barnhardt. It continues to this day, although it has undergone some typographic adjustments.
Larger Paper, Larger Staff
From issue one, the paper rapidly grew. The September 2000 issue, with our first “Back to School” section, had 56 pages. This reflected all sorts of new areas of news and community coverage and columns, with lots more advertising support from the business community. A total of 112 different advertisers appeared in year one.
In its first year, a dozen people were primarily responsible for the monthly issues. Diane Murphy took over layout and production. Bruce Beswick, Meg Cameron, Doris Delfosse, Iris Fisher, Susan Gedney, Mary Gerster, Paul Hicks, Mary Julian, Georgetta Morque, Sandy Lubliner, Donna Lynch, Brad Smith, and John Schwartz joined the list of Contributing Editors. Sandy Rebetz, Suzy Allman, Michelle Florence, and JoAnn Cancro were Staff Photographers. Dottie LeClair and Kathy Doherty joined Ad Sales. Dozens of other residents appeared.
I joined as a reporter in October 1997 and became Co-Publisher with Dolores in January 1998. Current Publisher Robin Jovanovich joined as a Contributing Editor in May 1998, was named Editor in 2000, and became Co-Publisher in October 2002.
Ink on the Paper, Not on Your Shirt
News can be a dirty job. We don’t mean investigative reporting. We mean the ink rub-off that is an occupational (and reader) hazard with inexpensive print stock and lesser quality inks. In November 2001, we converted to a much whiter stock and better inks. Our production costs went up, but our dry-cleaning bills went down. The Rye Record finally had the look and feel of a “real” paper.
We rented our first office in downtown Rye in November 2002, but writers, photographers, and ad sales personnel continued to work out of their homes. They still do. For a decade, the computer layout work was all done in-house by Duke Thrush, who also took over ad sales from me when I retired. After Duke moved to Florida, we switched to freelance designers.
Printing and Delivery
Over our quarter of a century, we’ve worked with six different printers, starting with one in New Rochelle, then Manhattan, Queens, Trumbull, Conn., outside Philadelphia, and now Long Island City.
In the beginning, we had to rent a van, drive it to printing plants in dark, dismal neighborhoods, load dozens and dozens of heavy mailbags full of Rye Records, and then drive back to Rye. That, however, was only half the job. The next morning, we drove to the Westchester mail center in White Plains and, sitting in the back of the van, labeled all 5,000-plus copies with pre-printed individual mail labels, then make sure they got put back into bags that fit Rye mail routes. (Talk about ink rub-off onto your body and clothes!)
After four years of this, we bit the bullet and paid for the printer to label and deliver to the post office. In addition, we have had a policy to hand deliver individual copies to all businesses and merchants in town.
One year, over Thanksgiving weekend, we discovered that the post office was closed on the Friday scheduled for delivery. There were time-sensitive ads and articles, which made Friday delivery critical. Our only option: split up Rye among the three owners and their extended families and hand deliver 5,000 or more copies to every home and office.
We began as a monthly, not by design, but out of practicality. Rapid growth in readership and advertising led us first to increase the number of pages per issue and then issues per year (16 issues in 2001, 19 in 2005). We currently are at 22 issues per year, many of which include special sections.
The Columns of Rye
The Rye Record is a community newspaper, which has resulted in many columns from residents. Among the early columns were “Art Beat”, Scene in Rye”, “Rye Writes”, and “Pet of the Month”. Others, since retired, included “Rye Ecology”, “The Fire Box”, “Slices of Wry”, and “The Wellness Corner”.
“City Council Notes” began in February 1998.
The range of columns continues to expand. We cover new and longtime businesses, local government, sports, schools, health, dining and wining, fashion, outdoor excursions, spiritual matters, sustainability, veterans, movies, births, engagements, weddings, gardening, art, music, reminiscences, local history, and travel (“Day Trippin’” and “Beyond Rye”).
We have published dozens of poems by Rye residents, including Michael Zotzmann, John Guenther, Evelyn Shanes, Florette Diaz, and Demi Duckworth. The late Anthony Navarra was our most prolific poet and we published 30 of his poems.
By far, the most frequent column has been “Slice of Rye”. In the first column, in May 1998, Dolores profiled “Charlie”, Purchase Street shoe repairman Ki Bong Nam. Since then, over 300 different people of Rye have been featured.
Special Sections & More
As the number of active advertisers grew, the paper was able to publish special sections and even a special issue. Starting in 2000 with what is now the annual “Back to School” section, there were “Rye Gardens”, “Rye House & Homes”, and “Home for the Holidays”. These all have become annual sections.
In 2004, the staff created the first (and, to date, only) Restaurant Guide, a review of the many restaurants in Rye. The restaurants each took out a small ad to finance the effort. It was a great example of how small-town publishing works.
Perhaps the most ambitious effort in the paper’s early years was the special 20-page section looking back over the 20th century in Rye as the Millennium approached. Each spread covered a decade with historic photos and news clippings from old issues of The Rye Chronicle.
In December 2004, the paper did another special issue, a stand-alone 32-page issue devoted to the area nonprofits. The advertisers’ contribution to the cause was outstanding.
We went on to publish a special issue on Weddings.
“Who Done It?”
Without doubt, the column readers look forward to most is The Police Blotter, which Dolores and I started in 1998. We have always omitted names and house numbers as a part of our hometown mission.
Since we began publishing obituaries of current and former residents in February 1999, we have always contacted families and fleshed out the stories of the individuals. Unlike other newspapers, we have not charged for this community service.
From the start, the paper encouraged local writing and photos, giving bylines and credit to one and all. For several years we included headshots of the regular contributors, but that slowly disappeared.
We have a good cartoon track record, starting with our April 1997 issue. Denny Sargent (since deceased) submitted his own cartoons and was the illustrator for ideas I provided over a period of three years.
Our current cartoonist is Chris Cohan, who is also our garden columnist.
While the paper covers local elections — City Council, County, and State — and interviews candidates, its policy has been not to take political sides. Early on, we added an opinion column (“Reader’s Forum”), so partisan views could be voiced by our readers, and occasionally by the paper.
Puzzles and Such
Throughout the 25 years, we’ve published a number of puzzles and contests, including a series of “Rye Scrambles”– jumbled letters to be sorted into words; “Rye Crossings” – crossword puzzles created by former resident Paula Gamache; and “Where in Rye?” mystery photos. For several years we tried to match The New York Times’ “Metropolitan Diary” with snippets of conversation heard around town.
Who Owns the Paper?
In 1997, I became minority owner with Dolores as majority owner. In 2002, Robin became co-owner with me; Dolores retained a small interest, as she does today. In 2008, Allen, sold his shares to Robin, who remains the primary owner today.
Why Is the Paper Free?
There are two reasons. The first is mission. Dolores and her founding partners wanted a paper that would go to everyone in Rye, regardless of price. It was a natural extension of the mission of building a paper exclusively about Rye. The second reason is that charging for subscriptions invariably reduces circulation, which reduces advertising rates. And speaking of advertisers, they are the ones to thank. They have supported the paper from Day One.
Four times in the paper’s early history, the readership was invited to mail in a voluntary subscription payment to help cover costs. Response was positive, meaningful, and very much appreciated.
The 21st century has been tough on the newspaper business. Local papers have been hit especially hard. So, when The Rye Record showed dramatic growth in number of pages per issue and number of issues a year, the competition thought they could hitch a ride.
Martinelli Publishing in Yonkers acquired The Rye Chronicle (which stopped publishing over 40 years ago) and tried to compete, but ended up selling to Rising Media, which publishes a weekly called Rye Rising with very little Rye news and very limited kiosk and stacked retail distribution. Gannett, publisher of The Journal News, tried to relaunch the old Daily Item (Port Chester) as a Rye weekly. It stopped publication after three years. Howard Sturman (Hometown Media Group) introduced The Sound Shore Review after The Rye Record was launched, first trying for paid subscriptions, then offered free, now just distributed at a few kiosks and selected stores around town.
As the early founders believed, the people of Rye needed a local paper – one for, by, and about Rye and themselves.
Third Rock from the Sun
By Robin Jovanovich
In 1997, while looking for gainful employment, not just freelance work, after both of my sons were out of high school and my father, whom I’d cared for, had died, I bought five snazzy suits. I hopped on the train in high heels carrying a briefcase or handbag in a complementary color. Waltzing into interviews at a number of posh magazines and newspapers, some of which I’d left decades earlier, I felt like Diane Keaton (“The Tiger Lady”) in “Baby Boom”. I was back in the glamorous world where I belonged, not on a supermarket line.
What I quickly discovered, however, was that I had absolutely no interest in glamour or writing about the lifestyles of the super-attractive and rich. I wanted to cover the talk of the town, not the big one where I grew up, but the small one where I lived, volunteered, made wonderful friends. And further, how could I continue to play tennis four days a week and commute to Manhattan?!
Fortunately, Dolores Eyler gave me the chance to write for the paper she founded, as well as the opportunity to wear some of those suits. I was the best-dressed reporter at City Council meetings in the late 1990s and into the aughts.
Despite deadlines and Allen’s late-night faxes, Dolores, Allen, and I had a remarkably good time growing The Rye Record. And, like Topsy, it grew. We were unstoppable until 2008, when we lost 30 percent of our advertising overnight.
Working long hours was the best distraction for me when my husband was diagnosed with a fatal lung disease in 2003 and during his long, bumpy recovery in 2004 and 2005. And it was a lifeline when the Recession hit.
My younger brother Duke, a graphic designer, made producing the paper look easy. He was a natural at selling ads, too. He was the one who said I should hire a young man named Jim Byrne to cover sports and someday become editor. Long-range planning at last!
On deadline nights, Paula Gamache was always a step ahead. She would be finished with her stories, had polished five more, and completed the billing while I tinkered with “my last story”.
After my brother moved to Florida, I asked my husband Peter to take over advertising temporarily. He got us through tough economic times, and as our unofficial collection agent, like J. Edgar Hoover, he hunted down the non-paying advertisers — banks, Ralph Lauren among them.
It was through Kek Knowles that we were introduced to Carla Eggers, who bravely agreed to take over advertising from my husband who was healthy enough to return to “real” work part-time.
After Jim left to work at a private school and my husband had another health setback, I started wondering if the man I played tennis next to on weekends — who wrote well but whom I didn’t know well — might want to come work with me. One morning, nearly ten years ago, while pacing the floor at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, I called Tom McDermott. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted. And, once again, I have Kek to thank, for suggesting I meet his friend Tom over a cup of coffee and get him to write for the paper.
With Tom’s help, I was finally able to produce “The Little Book of Rye”, which I’d long imagined.
He’s my only full-time colleague, so it’s good we agree on the essentials — what sandwich we are sharing, the proper use of the serial comma, whether to institute a moratorium on overused wellness hyperbole as well as all columns that begin with “After the year we’ve had….”
My son Nick, who worked in educational publishing before coming to work at The Rye Record, gets high marks for truly bringing the paper into the digital age. The Rye Life magazines we introduced in 2020 were also his brainchild.
This isn’t the age of newsprint but covering the Rye beat sure has been a wonderful way to age in place, mostly gracefully, for me.
Compliments and undying affection to The Rye Record contributors and crew who’ve been here under my watch, without whom this would have been just another local rag. Apologies in advance if I omitted any of you wonderful souls.