With thanks to Aunt Hazel, Journal celebrates 25 years

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Dan Haley

Twenty-five years ago this spring, Mary's Aunt Hazel died.And just in time.The $3,000 her niece, my wife, received from Aunt Hazel's estate is the reason WEDNESDAY JOURNAL exists. Without that cash, at exactly that time, this would-be publisher and his equally broke colleagues would have been back working in bookstores, restaurants, or, God help us, PR firms.

Instead, living off Mary's inheritance in the spring and summer of 1980, the three founders of this company?#34;myself, Sharon Britton and Anne Duggan?#34;remained hunched over our dining room table in the little brown house on Lombard Avenue figuring out how to start a newspaper. We wanted to start a newspaper in the worst way, and bada bing, we did. We launched on July 31, 1980 with nowhere near enough money in the bank. We started with basically no one to sell any ads. We had editorial fervor and while that has taken us a long way, it is no way to make a mortgage. But my, we had fun.

Tonight we begin our six-month long celebration of the 25th anniversary of Wednesday Journal, Inc. with a big shindig at the Cheney Mansion. This by-invitation event will be in stark contrast to our first annual meeting of our revered early investors. At that point we gathered in a meeting room at the old Nielsen's restaurant on North Avenue (now Binny's Beverage Depot) to celebrate our survival of year one over a lavish spread of Cheez Whiz and Saltines. When your company's losses are nearly equal to its revenues, you are praying for checks in the next day's mail to find out if you can make payroll, and your printer says to bring along a cashier's check before he'll print the next issue, then Cheez Whiz looks mighty good.

Once we shook hands with the final astonished looking shareholder ("You lost how much money? And you want to keep doing this?"), the staff absconded with the last bowl of pasteurized cheese food and headed east on North Avenue to a tavern near Oak Park Avenue (now a strip mall) where staff writer Eric Linden tended bar in order to pay his rent.

Those, believe it or not, were the days.

These days aren't bad however, just different. Wednesday Journal, Inc. is a testament to perseverance. What doesn't kill you and all that.

The flagship paper survives and thrives. It has been joined by four other weeklies covering Forest Park, Austin, Riverside-Brookfield, and the great neighborhoods just outside the Loop?#34;South Loop, Near West and West Loop. For the past 15 years we've also had the pleasure of publishing Chicago Parent magazine. More interesting projects are in the works.

Most all of our early investors?#34;we sold stock in the company for $1,000 a crack?#34;have since sold their shares back to the company and done well with their shaky investment. And that leaves ownership of our company in the hands of a handful of people committed to independent ownership, strong editorial focus and steady growth. Those are too rare goals for any publishing or media company these days.

It leaves me sitting in the same office I've sat in for some 24 years here on Oak Park Avenue. I get to do something I truly love, to work with people who astound me with their talent and dedication, to publish a group of newspapers and a magazine that we are very proud of. And, best of all, I have the opportunity to continue publishing my hometown newspaper. 

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