Monday, September 29, 2008

The Game's Afoot

Spent last week on my annual Department Store Hunting trip. Once a year I take a week and drive from city to city to find out who was in business where when. This year I did Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. This may not seem like a prime department store area, but you never know. It was in Warren, Pa., an out-of-the-way oil town east of Erie that I thought would be utterly without interest, that I found the connection that finally tied together a chain of stores that once existed throughout western Pennsylvania. On the other hand, Bradford, the next city east, offered no connection to anything other than itself, and in retailing-history terms not much had ever happened in Bradford. So I try to approach each city on my list (taken from the historic size of the retail market, the newspaper circulation, and the city's population, all with various factors to adjust) as a blank slate and see what I will find there.

I had never done any work on the department stores of Wilmington even though it's a half-hour from Philadelphia; it wasn't in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. Wilmington is a quite substantial city and until the development of the Bay Bridge in the 1950s was the entrepot for the entire Eastern Shore. And the many chemical companies endowed the city with a high degree of prosperity. Yet Wilmington never had a first-class department store until John Wanamaker of Philadelphia (and at that point, New York as well) opened a store there around 1950. In this it was different from similarly sized cities such as Allentown and Reading, or even smaller ones like Lancaster. Hess's in Allentown, Pomeroy's in Reading and Watt & Shand in Lancaster were far larger and more complete stores than Kennard's or Crosby & Hill in Wilmington.

In part this is the complexity of markets -- Wilmington's eastern suburbs become Philadelphia's western suburbs without a break, and have for decades. But Crosby & Hill, around the turn of the 20th century, had aspirations of becoming a major operation, with branches in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. There had been ambition, and then there was none.

My friend Susanne Shaw at the University of Kansas, a longtime student of newspapers and a leader in journalism education, speaks of the key role of leadership. In fits and starts, with foot-dragging and incomprehension, organizations move in the direction their leaders -- particularly the one at the top -- move them in, whether the people working there want them to or not, whether it's a good plan or not, even whether it's ruinous or not. Thus the leader is the key hire in the organization. A bad match, a narcissist, a time-server -- in good times you can cope with problems, in bad times you can't.

By the 1920s, large-city department stores had made massive infrastructure investments and, particularly for those in the Northeast and Midwest, it was just a matter of riding out the tides. Some fell in the Depression, others in 1950s suburbanization, but the path was pretty well set for Higbee's or Hochschild Kohn or Hudson's into the 1980s. Small-city stores pretty much kept going as they were. The mid-size cities -- still small enough that one company's could make a capital investment that would completely change the retail environment -- offer many interesting tales of chances taken or not taken and how they played out.

In Evansville, Ind., the locally owned department stores -- Bacon's, Lahr's, Andres' -- all went under in the Depression, leaving a market that Interstate Stores -- known primarily for low-end stores such as Stillman's -- filled by creating a first-class, full-line department store out of nothing and naming it, prosaically, the Evansville Store. In Fort Wayne, Wolf & Dessauer, the city's dominant store, invested millions in a new downtown store in the late 1950s, a block off the main street and surrounded by parking, a store so large and off to itself that it rendered much of the rest of downtown Fort Wayne irrelevant -- which then took its toll on Wolf & Dessauer. The Latz family made a bet that had unexpected consequences.

And in Wilmington, a city with a blocks-long downtown of narrow streets, the city's two major department stores stayed in first gear, opening the door wide for Philadelphia's Wanamakers and then Strawbridge & Clothier to open branches there in the early 1950s -- the first city-level department stores in what was a reasonably sized city. Meanwhile, in a similarly sized market not that much farther from Philadelphia, Max Hess Jr. was making his family's Allentown store into a major retail institution, one known nationally for its ambition and gumption.

In the end, of course, none of the downtown stores could complete with the combination of free parking, nighttime and Sunday hours, air-conditioned malls and perceived freedom from crime. There is no more Hess's, which was sold to a mall developer in Johnstown and eventually became part of Bon-Ton stores; there is no more Kennard's, even though it opened stores in Wilmington's malls. So the lesson could be, why should anyone have botherered? They should have just put "going out of business" signs up in the 1950s and accepted their irrelevancy.

But the outcome of decisions made today often is not fully seen for 10 or 20 years. The people making decisions in the 1930s through 1960s didn't see an inevitable future. They did what they thought was right for themselves, their families, and their businesses. The future only looks inevitable looking backward.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol. 15

The Tepper's Inc. building at 107 W. Front St. in Plainfield, N.J., has been turned into housing and shops. Tepper's was one of three large department stores in Plainfield, which was both a small regional city and an upscale North Jersey suburb. Rosenbaum Bros. eventually became part of the R.J. Goerke operations referred to in many of these past department-store posts. Later, Bamberger's also opened a downtown store there. Plainfield was the largest downtown in North Jersey west of Newark. Racial rioting in the 1960s led white middle-class shoppers to shrink away in fear. Even the Plainfield Courier-News famously moved to Bridgewater Township and tried for years to have as little identification with Plainfield or Union County as it could.

In many department store families it is clear that there was one member of the family who either wanted to strike out on his own, or was encouraged to do so. Perhaps he wanted to be the leading partner and the other relatives did not agree; perhaps the other relatives simply thought he was a doofus. A family feud of this sort split the Kaufmann family that owned Pittsburgh's largest store, and renegade Kaufmanns started their own store, Kaufmann Looby and Baer Co., which later became Gimbel Bros.' Pittsburgh outpost. Edgar Kaufmann, who emerged in control of the original Kaufmann's, was the one who engaged Frank Lloyd Wright to build Fallingwater.

I have no idea what happened within the Tepper family except that while Max and Adolph Tepper established and ran what was then called Tepper Bros. in Plainfield -- Joe stayed in New York City -- Jacob Tepper removed to Fort Wayne, Ind., in the 1910s. Fort Wayne was a city that attracted migrants from the East; it was the last big city before Chicago on the direct train line from New York, so quick connections with Manhattan were available. (The Latzes, who for decades owned Wolf & Dessauer in Fort Wayne, were also migrants from New York City.) Jacob Tepper tried to make a go of it with a department store in Fort Wayne, but it did not work out. The Tepper family also briefly had a store in New Brunswick. Eventually Jake Tepper returned to New Jersey and started the Tepper Bros. store in Asbury Park in the 1930s. But that was not part of the main Tepper operation in Plainfield.

Tepper's had a furniture and home furnishings store on Route 22 as well. Ben Tepper, son of Adolph, led the store into the 1970s.

Downtown Plainfield was in a curious location. You can see a small creek right behind the Tepper building. The buildings on the other side of that creek, which appear to be an extension of downtown, are actually in the separate community of North Plainfield, in Somerset County. So the center of downtown Plainfield was one city block away from not being in Plainfield. There are lots of adjacent twin cities -- Lewiston-Auburn, Benton Harb0r-St. Joseph, Fargo-Moorhead -- but usually the line between them is more than a creek one could jump over. Even in Champaign-Urbana, where the line is simply a line on a map, the downtowns are a mile apart. This is about as close as you can cut it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wiki Week

My colleague Bob Kelley sends me a Wiki wonder:

Blocking is physical contact between the offensive player and the defensive player. Blocking fouls are issued when a defensive player arbitrates the path of the offensive player in the shooting motion. Blocking fouls are easily called when the defensive player is standing in the "restricted zone".[1]
Restricted zone: In 1997, the NBA introduced an arc of a 4-foot (1.22 m) radius around the basket, in which an offensive foul for charging could not be assessed. This was to prevent defensive players from attempting to draw an offensive foul on their opponents by standing underneath the basket. FIBA will adopt this arc with a 1.25 m (4 ft 1.2 in) radius starting in 2010.[2]
Many people believe that basketball was a death sport to summon the Demon Jashin.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Listening to Jonie

Howard Owens has been writing about his experiences trying to create a paperless local newspaper for Batavia, N.Y., a site selected by Gatehouse apparently because they determined that the local newspaper was totally clueless about online. He falls into the camp of those who believe that newspapers' problems come initially from their abandonment of local community news in pursuit of the highminded, abstract solutions presented to a community by people who did not live the same lives as most residents.

Jon Talton, of course, would say that he is just as interested in coverage of the local community as Howard is. But I expect that they would have an interesting in-person discussion, with Howard eventually seeing Jon as one of those highminded abstracters not in touch with typical community concerns, and Jon seeing Howard as a slave to focus groups that preach the gospel of local-local at the expense of inconvenient truths. Or I could be wrong and they could spend the night happily buying each other round after round.

Doug Fisher and I had many interesting go-rounds until it sort of hit both of us that he was talking about journalism and then talking about how printed newspapers would fit into its future with myriad and seemingly limitless technological opportunities, and I was talking about printed newspapers and how journalism would fit into their future amid myriad technological opportunities. And then, of course, there are the Kens and Marks who say that print fits into no future at all. And then Tribune Co. is trying to make the reading of a print newspaper more enjoyable, at least as it sees it.

And sometimes the discussions about whither journalism in an era of print decline act as if journalism barely exists outside daily newspapers and weekly newsmagazines, which has always struck me as odd -- journalism has always existed in books, broadcasting, movies (Frederick Wiseman to Michael Moore) and other forms; journalism always takes advantage of whatever communications media exist, adapting its presentation to the medium, and newspapers are both a medium for journalism and a consumer product. So in a purist sense it does not matter in the long run to journalism if they do not exist; but it does not matter if they do exist, either.

Journalism is full of theories -- there used to be the four theories of the press (totalitarian, social-responsibility, etc.), there used to be op-width, balanced vs. circus layout. So I'm going to propose my own for talking about journalism, newspapers, whatever in the future, because I'm a blogger and therefore I can.

And that is that we're talking about Jonie. (I tried to keep it to Joni so we could hear from both sides now, but it was leaving something out.)

Jonie is, in newspaper terms:
J -- Journalism. Capital-J journalism. Investigations, major takeouts, Barlett and Steele, pulling back the curtain to show what's there, locally or nationally -- usually, the bigger the game, the more important it is seen as.
O -- Opinion. Editorials, most blogs, letters, anything whose thrust is "here's what I think about that."
N -- News. Galveston nearly destroyed. McCain says X, Obama says Y. Man helps community baseball league. Mostly just saying here's what happened; you can look behind the curtain, but you don't pull it back completely. It accepts the world as it is and reports on it.
I -- Information. Listings, community events, theater times, business promotions, garden columns.
E -- Entertainment. Not just news about entertainment, but things that entertain the reader -- Hey Mabel stories, comics, Ask Amy, those Monday features on well-meaning local people not doing anything in particular that exist to fill the bottom of the B page.

This just pertains to news. You could drop the J and the rest holds up for advertising, too: Opinion (Exxon should be able to drill for oil, Exxon advertises), News (on sale today!), Information (Dr. Marcos has moved his office), Entertainment (any Volkswagen ad).

Newspapers in the 20th century took Jonie as their guide. Now, many pieces of content did two or more things -- a news story can entertain, the line between information and news is small -- in fact, everything was able to be covered under the rubric of "news," except "opinion" got its own pages except when the publisher wanted to write a front-page editorial or the editor wanted to put a piece of commentary on A1. (News was broken up into news, sports, women's... but it was generally still news.) But the point is not to propose textual analysis, "This story seems like N with a dollop of E." It's just that when people talk about the future of newspapers, they are not talking about the same thing.

So much discussion now is about what emphasis to give to the different parts. Owens writes:

"If local communities are less coherent today than 60 years ago, well certainly mobility and network television play a role, but so do newspapers that fired their community correspondents, stopped covering Eagle scout promotions and tea socials, concerned themselves more with the process of local government than the community impact of its decisions, and tried to be the only indispensable source for all the news of all the world, instead of the one indispensable source of Little League news."

OK, textual analysis, I lied. The community impact part is putting J over N when it comes to local government. But Owens is also saying, in other areas the daily newspaper should have given I more emphasis than J, or at least given I more emphasis than it did. Many bloggers berate newspapers for not immediately combining N and J in the same story, if not O as well. I suspect Talton's view is: Lots of J, less of mundane I. And E? Well, over here we have Lee Abrams, and over there we have -- oh, lots of people who think that J cannot exist with E because E means pandering and cheapening, we are not here to please, we are here to enlighten, and enlightenment is thirsty work.

Much of the despair about newspapers' shaky financial future comes down to: "Without gobs of money, newspapers can no longer do J. They can only do some N and probably more I. Since I see the prime role of newspapers as J, and got into newspapers to do J, they are useless to me. MacArthur Foundation, where are you?" For others it's: "Online can more easily present I and a lot of N. With a strong Web site doing this, the newspaper is for people who are interested in J." Juan Senor of Innovation in Newspapers largely made this point in Australia recently. Does J work better online or in print? Does N have any role in print? If N has no role in print, what is the point of a newspaper? And on and on.

It would be far easier to save newspapers -- in whatever format -- if we could figure out what we were trying to save, or at least group ourselves into parties based on what we think is important and then try to save that. As it is, one person points to a zebra, one points to a hippopotamus, one points to a crocodile, and all say: There's our problem, the newspaper. Let me post a response to your hippo in which I talk about a rhinoceros.

So which newspaper problems are you are mainly trying to solve? The rapid dissemination of news? The provision of information? The full employment of the opportunities offered by digital communication? The establishment of a central community reference? The continued existence of printed journalism? The invocation of a community to act on public issues? The death of obsolete tchnologies and their drain on the corporate purse? The satisfaction of the reader in buying a physical product? The enlightenment of the public on social issues? The preservation of your business? The free expression of opinion? The role of a people's champion? (Think how allowing unlimited posting on every story, as opposed to presenting a selection of edited letters, both supports and undermines the interrelation of those two.) And we haven't even gotten into the advertising problems yet.

You can pick more than one, because some are philosophies and some are tactics. But while they can all fit under the rubric of "reinventing the newspaper," all will not lead to the same solution. And in the long run, it is probably beyond the capabilities of most journalistic organizations to solve all of these problems, even though most are being told that their only future is to try to cover every base in every medium.

As for me, I think newspapers should try to solve the invocation of a community, the establishment of a central community reference, and the satisfaction of a reader in buying a physical product. Through their geographic reach they create, bind and define communities; through their journalistic work they create the most comprehensive databases that could exist; and, as Barney Kilgore said, the first duty of a newspaper is to stay in business. To do that you need to sell something to someone; print products maintain a brand, and newspapers know how to disseminate and distrbute information through print, and charge people for doing so, better than anyone else does. Then whatever else you do has to support this. That's my zebra.

Monday, September 15, 2008


In the early 1980s I was occasionally doing the front page for The Flint Journal, which had a big street sale with first-shift workers coming out of the city's then-gigantic auto plants. I was trying, in keeping with the best thinking about newspapers then -- you weren't selling breaking news in the afternoon, you were selling in-depth journalism, you didn't want to overplay stories -- to do a front page placing the most meaningful, thoughtful stories at the top, with evocative headlines that could convey their subtlety -- i.e. small. And I got word that I was killing the paper's street sales.

When people came out of the factory, they wanted to see a big headline on the Journal's front page, one that said -- there's something interesting here. Buy this. All I was giving them was a small blur of black. And until then we had run stories above the flag, we had chopped the flag down by two columns. I knew instead that one was always supposed to run the flag full-width at the top of the page, and laid out the page in that manner. The flag was the visual starting cue that let the reader know where to begin.

When I was a child reading The Honolulu Advertiser -- if I've never explained how, as a child in Indiana, I read The Honolulu Advertiser every day, don't ask, but I did -- the paper would have gigantic headlines in red, and sometimes the name of the paper would be placed as an afterthought in columns three through five. The Los Angeles Times "Preview" edition had huge headlines.

The thinking in the 1950s and 1960s, though, was that that treatment was just for street sales. The home subscriber wanted something more restrained, more middle-class.

Department stores used to have display windows facing Main Street, some of them over-the-top. I remember talking to executives of Ziesel Bros. Co. in Elkhart, Ind., in the early 1970s. They had taken out the display windows because research had shown that people liked to see into stores to see the actual merchandise. Unfortunately, what you saw inside the windows of Ziesel Bros. was the store and not that much merchandise. I'm sure that there was a turn away from artificially designed display windows, but if you replaced it with a boring view of a store that next week looked pretty much like last week, why would anyone get excited?

In the 1980s, newspaper designers said that the flag was sacrosanct. Did Time run the word "Time" at the bottom of the page? And so the flag became an immutable element. Now papers such as The State in Columbia, the Yakima Herald Republic and the Klamath Falls Herald and News are running mini-flags, overlay flags, embedded flags. Also, papers such as the Waco Tribune-Herald are making sure that every day's paper comes with one extremely large headline. Alan Jacobson's design for the Boomerang in Laramie comes with almost incredibly large headlines above the flag, which may be halfway down the page.

What this has needed is a blessing, and now designer Mario Garcia has given it. I'm sure many designers will be aghast, that this deviates from all the work done to create clear navigation and a sense of priority and reader comfort. And those things are important. But they only work when someone actually uses the paper. And clearly many papers are asking themselves if they have become too staid, too predictable, too caught in the New York Times vision of saying that whatever may happen in the world, it is (with rare exceptions) not a surprise to The New York Times or its readers and thus it will be treated appropriately and measuredly. That is how readers of The New York Times want to see themselves, but it probably doesn't move many papers in Tulsa.

Yes, the reader wants to be able to get through the paper easily, and yes, geegaws and gimcracks ought not to get in the reader's way out of our boredom. But America is full of front pages that nearly scream, "Gee, nothing in particular happened today." If we're just going through the motions, why should you care? The sanctity of the flag always seemed to me to be more about the sanctity of the designer's design than selling the paper. Even if it will inevitably swing too far, it's time to swing. Excitement and fun are not opposed to good journalism.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol.14

High above the clouds -- for some reason there are no low-level shots facing the right direction in Perth Amboy -- is the block of Smith Street that was home to Reynolds Bros., the light-faced building at center right. The store started just after the turn of the century as Reynolds and Hanson, a partnership of George Reynolds and Walter Hanson; John Reynolds quickly became the partner, replacing Hanson, who later turned up as partner in another Perth Amboy store, Sharp & Hanson.

Although the Reynoldses were the merchant princes of Perth Amboy, they moved out of the city early. By 1920 George Reynolds had decamped to Plainfield, and the family remained based there until the late 1950s, when it moved again to the Rumson-Fair Haven area at the northern end of the Shore. The management-class neighborhood of Perth Amboy was oddly located, to the southeast of downtown, in a neighborhood surrounded on two sides by water. It couldn't grow out, and much of the rest of the city was factories and blue-collar neighborhoods, so the upper middle class simply left -- for the Shore, for Metuchen, for various North Jersey suburbs. Similarly, the now-vanished Perth Amboy newspaper first moved to Woodbridge and then changed its name before being subsumed in today's Middlesex County-wide Home News Tribune. Something there was about Perth Amboy that made people not want to identify with it, even though the old upper-middle-class section not only has a fine view of the water but many historic sites.

Perhaps it was the odd name, which is as mysterious in provenance as Newport News. My favorite folk tale is of Lord Perth walking to shore wearing a kilt and the Indian women laughing, whereupon his lordship responded, "No! Perth am boy!" This was in the WPA guide to New Jersey, I am not making this up.

Reynolds Bros. operated suburban stores in Somerville and Toms River, and possibly others, before it closed in the 1980s. It used a butterfly as part of its logo, if I remember correctly.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why We Fight

When I started this blog it was in part because I thought it might be interesting to show the parallel fortunes of newspapers and department stores, and because, like any other blogger, I had the solipsistic attitude that what I said might actually make a difference. But my final motivation was that I just don't like meanness and name-calling. And I was tired of reading blog after blog whose underlying message was: "You people who aren't totally getting it are so stupid! There's nothing you can do to save your precious outmoded obsolete print newspapers that absolutely no one reads anymore except for the 75 million losers who still do! Just die and get out of our way!" It just seemed that if we were all united by our belief in journalism, that saying there might be a purpose in trying to save, by rethinking, print newspapers' role might play a part in that. But the people who felt that way were being drowned out by people screaming, "Idiots! Revanchist morons! There is only one future!"

Whenever I hear that there is only one possible future, entsichere ich meinen Browning. So I launched myself into the fray.

Mark Potts at Recovering Journalist felt the need to launch a Jeremiad. (I've done my own.) In his condemnation of a class he calls Printies, he wrote:

"Call these dangerous dinosaurs Printosaurus Rex. Or, for short: Printies. Printies exist throughout the newspaper business, but they're most pernicious in the executive suite, where they continue to hold back intelligent, aggressive digital development. You know the type: They rhapsodize about how nice it is to be able to hold news in their hands as they read it. They tend to wear expensive suits and drive nice cars, paid for in better times. They declaim about never reading blogs. They may have a Facebook profile–but no friends. (But they don't hesitate to hold forth on their "expertise" about Facebook.) They spend money on inane print promotions but don't bother to market their Web sites.

"They print out their e-mail.

"Rather than firmly embracing and investing in the digital future, Printies are doing everything they can to preserve the dead-tree product they're so comfortable with, even at comical expense. They do crazy things like investing in printing plants. They fear the immediacy of the Web, leading to unfortunate memos that mandate paper-first publication (fortunately, cooler heads often prevail on these). They demand prominent "Subscribe to the print edition" links on the top of their Web sites. Truthfully, do these idiotic links really sell papers? Enough to justify that prime placement? I think not."

It was the part about printing out e-mail that got me, in part because I remembered a blog post from some conference -- I tried to find it, couldn't, trust me, it existed -- where a tech-savvy member of an audience was listening to a print reader whose issue with online newspapers was how she was going to save the recipes. After hearing her ask twice what she was going to do without being able to cut the recipes out of the paper, the blogger exploded (either internally or externally) into a huffy "Just print them out, for God's sake!"

Potts is not referring to recipes, but apparently the solution offered to this woman would qualify as a printie remedy as well. She should simply move them into her "recipes" folder and then call them up on her laptop next to the range.

I get more than 100 e-mails per day, and I might print out one or two -- to put on a pile marked "deal with this in coming days." I know I could put them into a folder called "Deal with this in coming days" in Outlook and then access it from my mobile device. I also know I can scan through a bunch of printouts on my desk easier than I can scan the contents of a computer folder. But I am sure Potts is thinking of some executive somewhere who prints out all of his e-mail to read it (or perhaps even still has a secretary to print it out). So I was not personally offended. I just asked myself:

Why does it make so much difference how we use technology? Any technology exists to be used. It does not exist to mandate any use. If I print out my e-mails and read them, what possible difference can it make to you? It is not the same as saying, "I will only respond to letters sent through the U.S. Mail." If I like to read them on paper, and if I respond to them, why is that subject to your condemnation? In the 1980s, if I never set the time on my VCR clock and only used it to watch prerecorded tapes, you might sneer and think that I was not getting as much out of something I paid money for that I could, but if I was satisifed, who cares?

If I think there is a future in printed newspapers and want to spend my company's money building printing plants, whether I am Hearst or Murdoch, you might say I am making a questionable business decision, you might not want to put your money on my marker. Do I deserve the scorn of "comical expense," of such phrases as "harebrained schemes to propagate the print product through laughable 'e-editions'"? Am I not presumably doing this because I, like you, believe in journalism and want to ensure its future?

After throwing invectives around the room, Potts answers that question:

"In clinging to their legacy print products at all costs, they invariably starve development of the innovative digital products that have the best chance to save the industry."

In other words: Money is tight, and if you take the money for your project, we don't have it for ours, and I think your project is stupid and mine isn't. And your project is stupid because you print out your e-mail and so you're stupid. Only those who embrace every new technology to its fullest know what's really going on. I hold the trump card. Give me the money and go away.

Well, Potts got some interesting comments. On e-editions:

"The main reason the newspaper industry is pumping out PDFs is that libraries and the Library of Congress now wants them instead of the mailed paper product. It saves shovel-loads of money, which as taxpayers we all should applaud, and newspapers are required to file their copies with the LC to keep their copyrights. ... As an historian who uses these records from time to time, I truly love PDF versions of newspapers and books. I have spent too many hours reading microfilm and microfiche in a backlit reader not to be really jealous of a generation that has easy and efficient searches of mounds of documents."

A reader identified as "A" spoke up in support of print, admittedly not terribly convincingly, to which Pat Thornton, who as noted here before can be an angry man, responded:

"You're an idiot."

A writer known as Working Journalist, who tends to write at great length as I do, probably to our mutual detriment, noted:

"Ease up on the condescension, Mark. It adds nothing to the debate and alienates people who should be learning from your views. ... I agree with you that the reluctance by many managers to let go of print has hampered digital innovation. There are also 'digital idealists' at papers, people who seize on every new e-gadget and insist that the newspaper must embrace it, even if it offers no obvious new journalistic or financial benefit. They, too, are a problem. Newspapers are poorly served both by blind traditionalism and by blind idealism....

"A pragmatist looking at the print product would not simply abandon it, nor scoff at its fans. At most newspapers, the print product delivers more than 90 percent -- 90 percent! -- of total revenue, and effectively delivers news and ads to tens or hundreds of thousands of readers. By no measure is this technology obsolete or irrelevant.

"On the other hand, we have electronic media of many types, many still evolving. The potential of these media is obvious and exciting, with the possibility of delivering news and advertising to thousands, millions -- billions! -- and permitting a radical new form of interactive journalism that we're only beginning to imagine. But, so far, the new model doesn't make money -- or not much....

"A pragmatic view -- what I called the 'accountant's' view at Mutter's site -- would be to base newspaper business decisions not on tradition nor on promises of a new era dawning, but on hard data: income and loss. The next steps forward should lead clearly toward solvency; otherwise they're not worth taking. It does us no good to create an exciting new kind of journalism if it comes with an eviction notice. Let's look at how we can make more money and commit better journalism using all the tools in the box. ...

"We are poorly served by divisive posts mocking those who cling to traditional journalism, or dismissing those seeking a new path. We need to work together to find business models that can demonstrate, with hard numbers, an ability to succeed in a capitalist economy."

And Howard Owens, who gave me needed guidance in the early days of this blog, added in terms of the "subscribe here" link:

"When I ran the Ventura County Star Web site, we did a little redesign and removed the 'subscribe' link. The circulation director came to me immediately and said, 'What are you doing to me?' He had in his hand a printout showing the Web site was generating about 20 new subscribers per month. Now that was a few years ago, but why should we make it hard for people to find a way to subscribe to our most profitable product on our Web sites?

"Us Onlinies always argue that we shouldn't force people into getting news how we think they should get news -- so why shouldn't we make it easy for them to get the print edition if that's what they want? Some of our readers, even ones who visit our Web sites, really still do prefer print. And the same can be said for the PDF version.

"I'm also one who doesn't believe online is going to kill print. The decline of print started long before there was a Web, driven by forces that have little to do with technology. Those forces have much to do with more choices (which yes, does include the Internet now), changing lifestyles, a more mobile (less rooted) culture, and problems with journalism itself (core, deep problems). The more troubling trends are driven by declining readership along generational lines, which goes back 80 years and has nothing to do with the Web.

"To say that all of our efforts should be concentrated on the Web is just as hidebound as the attitudes of the worst of the Printies."

I was waiting to someone to answer: "You're an idiot." I guess Howard's reputation prevented that. Or the fact that he used his real name.

The Daily Telegraph in England has started printing on the presses of the Times. The reason is that Rupert Murdoch invested in presses that will allow printing of color on every page. The London newspapers see color on every page as essential to print's future. That might be called enhancing and exploiting technology. Or it might be called being a dinosaur. ("The right idea for -- 1975!") If we have a tool at our disposal that we know a lot about, the printed newspaper, why not use and exploit it along with using the other tools we now have? Oh, because if we didn't you'd have more money to work with what you want to work with.

I started this blog because I was tired of feeling as if I really were an idiot for believing that print had a place in journalism's future whatever else the future holds. Now I'm even more glad for those -- Duncan, Giner, Owens, Garcia, Fisher, Jacobson, Picard, and many more whose blogs I simply don't read or don't know of, or who don't blog because they have more humility than I do -- who despite their many differences keep the focus on the world as we find it and not on who's the bitchin'est futurist in the room.

Monday, September 8, 2008

And When You Least Expect It

Kubas Consultants, which I regard as one of the potential saviors of the newspaper business, published a report that used to be free online but now is by pay (CORRECTION: It's not posted online anymore, but it's still free if you order it by e-mail, sorry); here's a link to where you can order the report, called "The Next Newspaper Sales Model." One of its major points was that one of the way Google has prospered is by not demanding that ads be placed through a representative. Indeed, almost all of its business is simply Web-page driven.

Newspapers, the report noted, have made display advertisers go through a sales representative, who hauls out a rate card -- lovingly prepared by the in-house graphics person, but with no possible interactivity -- pulls out a calculator, writes some stuff down on paper and says, "Now here's what I can do for you." It's a salesman-driven model that still works perfectly well in some areas, but increasingly clients either 1) want to simply place the ad directly at a time of their choice or 2) want the rate-card data presented as an Excel file so they can draw their own conclusions. For classified, you often have to go through the Phone Room, dictating the ad to an Ad-Viser who set it up in the system. Of the three papers I get at home daily, all offer the option of going to a Web site to place the ad, but their top-of-the-section setup ad makes clear that the phone is still the preferred method.

Except today, an interesting thing happened in the Burlington County Times. The back page of classified was devoted to a full-page house ad showing how to place your classified ad online, without benefit of human intervention. (Go here, click on map, create account, select classification, place ad.) Perhaps to support this effort, the BCT made a special ad push. Whatever the situation, today's BCT classified, at least in terms of Help Wanted, looked like we were back in the good old days. Classified display for nurses, cashiers, even a chief of police. And liner ads for many different types of jobs. Column after column. Nearly five pages of classified help wanted in a paper that has been strugging to fill three pages with classified in total.

Maybe they were giving them away. But part of the falloff of readership has been that we no longer offer job ads in any profusion. People don't buy papers just for the journalism. Newspapers will never again get column after column of national ads for aerospace engineers running in the top 50 metros. But they can get jobs for local ads drawing from a local readership that is just looking for a job in a specific area, not looking for advancement in a national hiring market.

In line with which, Steve Outing, who in addition to yelling about stopping the presses devotes a lot of time to the issue of classifieds, noted two recent changes, in Baltimore and St. Petersburg, aimed at eliminating the classified ghetto. Among them is moving to a six-column classified format and publishing the classifieds near actual content, not just "friendly" material as has been done with auto ads for years. Outing notes that St. Pete ran its classifieds near:

"- Staff reporter piece about a resident trying to get back his abducted dog.- Staff piece about an ice cream worker for an ongoing feature, "Working Class Hero."- Daily reader-submitted photo.- "On the Move" feature of business appointments, promotions, etc.- Crossword puzzle and other puzzles.- Comics.- Horoscope.- Movie times listings (and ads from theaters).- Advice and consumer watchdog columns (including Dear Abby).- TV listings grid.- Careers Q&A feature (to accompany recruitment ads).- "On the Bookshelf" feature about home-related books (to accompany real estate ads).- Automotive feature stories (to accompany auto ads)"

Well, you can't get away from the auto features. And newspapers have always backed classifieds up against crosswords or comics. Some 40 years ago would run Dear Abby in with the classifieds. But as Outing notes, there are "reports of readers finding ads to respond to and purchasing things as a result of initially reading through the section only to play a puzzle or read the comics. Yes, newspapers have tried many times to add some content in with the classifieds, such as moving comics into the section. But for that to work, the classifieds themselves must be redesigned to be more useful and easy to scan. Editorial content alone can't do the job."

So yes, part of the reason classifieds fled to the Internet was not just that it was a better medium but that we often did a crappy job of presenting them, one based solely on our own needs. The reason classifieds were a cash cow for newspapers is that we ran them in as little space as possible, with all sorts of arcane abbreviations ("2 rms b/a rv vu S Pgh"), and then charged an arm and a leg for them; but part of the reason we did that was the difficulty of producing masses of classifieds in the hot type era.

One shudders to think of the effort involved in setting line after line of classified on linotypes, setting it all by slug, having a makeup person take all the slugs for category 203 and put them in order, filling out the holes at the end of columns, having a person whose job was to monitor that the slug ran for the right number of days and then was thrown in the hellbox -- and from day to day you would not know exactly how much space, with obits and lost cats, this all would take up. Left to its own devices, with legal ads, it could eat up the entire paper. Because classifieds were a world of their own, the paper typically left them to their own devices, such as the different column widths; most papers even had separate styles of folio lines for classified sections, for no particular reason except that the classified manager had the power to do it. And then there were the elaborate rules to prevent cross-departmental poaching by classified and display. The Baltimore Sun was once famous for where you could not run logos in classified liner ads; if you wanted your company name spelled out in big type, you had to have it set in parallel rows of characters like O's in body type. If it was a logo, it was Display and thus it was someone else's commission.

And thus classifieds developed into the jammed together, nearly unreadable, chaotic mix they were when the Internet came along and said, hey, this can be done easier, faster, more readably and cheaper.

Which it can. Classified will never be what it was, but maybe it still has a second life -- if we stop treating it as the unreadable junk in the back of the paper and treat it as content that if we presented it in a way people might actually want to read it, maybe they would. This would work a lot better for newspapers if they admitted that it was all just advertising.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Wade Into the Water

One wades into politics at one's own peril. But this will get back to newspapers.

You would think that Sarah Palin's nomination would have ended the Mommy Wars: Yes, you can be the mother of five children and have a full-time job, such as governor or vice president. Wasn't that what the Mommy Wars were about: Working moms vs. nonworking moms?

Well, at least it was when I was younger. Clearly even "working full-time at an important job" has been removed from the equation, as this story from the New York Times makes clear. So one is left with: What are we talking about, anyway? What were we talking about?

Some quotes:

  • “I admire her intelligence and I admire her integrity, but first and foremost she’s a mom, and she has an understanding of what being a mom is.”

  • “I’m just going to vote for Trig Van Palin’s mom.”

  • “Sarah Palin is a different kind of feminist. She is a strong woman who can wear a skirt and be proud of it.”
I'm thinking back to the 1960s and what 1960s feminism was fighting. "Don't you worry your little head about it." Get married, and you lost your job. Unequal pay for equal work. Differences in legal treatment that I was too young to understand. Harassment in law school and medical school. A woman couldn't possibly be smart enough or rational enough to be president. A woman's only place is in the home. Your son can dream of being a doctor and your daughter can dream of being a nurse. The whole plot of "Mad Men."

It seems that in that sense, 1960s feminism in the end got four fruits across the slot machine and you can hear the silver dollars hitting the tray. So why is intelligent, successful, educated Hillary Clinton, who even her foes generally admit successfully raised a fine daughter, seen as a man-hating b---- and intelligent, successful, educated Sarah Palin, who has also raised fine children but has the unfortunate situation of having a daughter pregnant out of wedlock at 17, a wonderful example for our daughters?

I guess it has to be the cookies. I've often wondered if Hillary Clinton taped herself into a circle of hell by saying "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life." In that statement a lot of people heard: Come hell or high water, I'm a lawyer first, I'm a politician first. I may also be a wife, I may also be a mother, but my stars are set and I follow them. My personal ambitions are high and they come first.

And Sarah Palin? I may be governor, I could be vice president, but come hell or high water, I'm a woman first, I'm a mom first. I suppose I could have stayed home, but what I decided to do was enter politics full-time, but I bake cookies and I can have the other moms over for tea and not feel like my identity as a politician or an intelligent person is threatened. I was female before I entered public life, and those stars were set and I followed them. My personal ambitions are high, but being a woman brings certain responsibilities and I have them whether I want them or not.

In part this is an age difference -- Hillary Clinton had to fight and win battles so that Sarah Palin would not have to -- but it's a class difference as well. And although Palin worked as a journalist before entering politics, she didn't follow Al Gore into the city room of the Tennessean; she was a sports reporter on Anchorage television. That reflects changing times, but it also reflects the class divide that exists between print and TV journalism on the local level. As the New York Times story said of Wasilla, Alaska: “You’ve got to remember, we are not much bigger than a high school and she is the homecoming queen.” Print newsrooms have very few homecoming queens or BMOCs.

As Mark Bowden said in his Atlantic article, the journalists who entered the field in the heady era of Vietnam, Watergate and civil rights viewed themselves as "arbiters of style, taste and decency, who took upon themselves the tasks of keeping government honest and educating the public." That's slightly different from informing the public. Educating the public as arbiters means: We not only know more than you about what's going on -- which is our job, to find it out and tell you -- we know how we should live. We showed you the evil of Bull Connor, we showed you the truth of Martin Luther King, and you elected Lester Maddox, Frank L. Rizzo and Charles Stenvig. We showed you what was happening in Vietnam, and you re-elected Richard Nixon. We showed you how women were being discriminated against, and you bought Marabel Morgan. We are disappointed. So we're just going to keep showing you until you get it right.

I remember reading a story in my hometown paper years ago, a long interview with a woman who lived on Spring Mill Road, in a very upscale section of Indianapolis. She was in her late 70s, I believe, her husband had just died, and she wanted to tell her story. Her husband had physically mistreated her, but that was not all of it. He had made her give up contact with her friends. He had had her sit home during the day so she could be instantly attentive to his needs when he arrived. She regretted her life. She wanted younger women to learn from her example. Asked why she had put up with it, why she had not left, her response was: That was what women of my generation were told we had to do. That was our role as women.

The feminist women of my era said: Being female does not mean we have to fulfill any special role. We can do whatever we want. We can choose what we will do. The women who see Palin as their champion say, we can do whatever we want, we can choose what we will do, as long as we also celebrate our roles as women. I think that's why the stories that drive conservatives mad tend not to be about income redistribution or worker's rights or drilling for oil. They're the ones in which journalists look like sociologists investigating the primitive culture of those who say the desires of the individual should be at least balanced against, if not subordinated to, community standards.

Many people I know in newspapers are saying: You hypocrites! You cut funds for sex education, you preach abstinence only, and then Bristol gets pregnant and you say: Well, it's OK. If you just acknowledged that kids are going to have sex, we could be realistic and avoid some of these problems. To which comes the retort: You preach what is right, and then you support the sinner. You tell your kids what to do, and then you love them when they don't do it. But you say there is a right. A community can't exist without there being the "right," but the outliers of "right" will move around. Eisenhower said that America's system of government made no sense without there being a God, but it was to some degree irrelevant who that God was.

Many newspaper folks, with their curiosity, their desire to tell everyone's story, their desire to be reportorial and not judgmental, their belief that exposing hypocrisy shall make us free, and their general feeling that no one should be forced to do anything or denied the right to do anything because of sex, race, creed or color, simply can't understand the women who say "I'm not a feminist" and then proceed to support 95 percent of 1960s feminism's program. "I wouldn't burn my bra," when basically no one ever did. "I'm for a woman for president, but not that woman, Hillary." They see all this as a weird double standard that should be ended, a victory of cant over reality. The message that those who see Sarah Palin as their standard-bearer (and just for the record, I am not among them) come with is: A woman now can do anything she wants, but at the same time anatomy is still destiny. You can deal with any issue as well as a man can, but you still have to make the hotdish for a family funeral. You can wear the pants in your family as long as you don't think it's wrong to wear a skirt. Every circle doesn't have to be completely squared. It will be interesting to see if newspapers see this as progress or reaction.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Problem With the Future...

... is that when it arrives, there's still the Future ahead.

Doug Fisher, in commenting on presumed plans in Tampa for a one-section paper at least three days of the week, notes:

"Right now, much of our digital strategy -- and this includes companies far beyond media -- is of necessity tied to a multi-pound chunk of silicon and plastic. It's still basically a 9-5, desktop world online (even if the "desktop" is a laptop). As small, powerful information appliances and readers emerge, that single-hump graph of usage will smooth out or maybe become multi-humped. ... The bottom line is that five years, and definitely a decade, from now we don't know what we'll be using to get our news and information.

"... Is the idea of putting longer stuff online counterintuitive if mobile devices become a primary way to access the Internet? Eventually, I suspect these things will not only upend newspapers but all this stuff we've come to 'know' about our Web sites, which might not really be sites at all but various digital streams."

I can just see the postings two or three years from now:

"God, is ANYONE still using a computer to access a Web site? That is so 20th century. Get with it, people!"

"Newspaper Web sites are even deader than print because they don't have as many legacy users. People who still use Big Key media are just going to have to adapt. Those people who still use computers instead of mobile devices -- well, most of them are in their 70s and 80s anyway. As Jeff Jarvis says..."

"Journalism as we know it will come to an end without Web sites. Without the rich mix for the eyes given by the 15- to 19-inch screen, without the ability to easily read 20 to 30 headlines at one glance, no one will ever read most news stories again. It'll be all Jamie Lynn all the time."

"They'll go back to Web sites once their eyesight gets worse."

"The home page model offered a wonderful medium for long-form, literary journalism. This new medium only favors information and opinion. A golden age has disappeared."

"As I predicted in 1996, 2000, 2004, whatever, the business model of Web sites will collapse by 2012 and the last server will be turned off by 2014."

"We have a plan to ensure our company's profitability through distributing paid classified advertising on mobile devices."

"Microsoft believes that using proprietary software installed on PCs to update and develop Web news sites is a viable longterm business. Microsoft stock closed yesterday at 3 cents a share, while AP Mobile Newsnext, spun off last year by Sergey Brin in partnership with the Associated Press, closed at $12,416.25. In other news, Steve Ballmer's mansion in Washington state was put up for sale yesterday..."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sixth Floor, Another Blog

Pat Thornton of Stars and Stripes has a blog -- you can't be a newsroom technology master without a blog -- called The Journalism Iconoclast, which consists of the same collection of looks at the future and rants about the backwardness of most newspaper staffs found on many blogs of newspaper technology masters. That's not a snark; it's just a fact, the same as how many comments by newspaper journalists who don't have their own blogs simply rant about these young pups and how they don't know anything and don't respect their elders. What we have here is a failure to communicate, as this posting by Pat shows, speaking to the Bowden Literary Journalistic Model; there's a value-system conflict, and its lack of resolution is killing the self-confidence of newsrooms just as much as declining ad revenue.

(It's finally starting to sink into my brain that, just as journalism-as-excellence-in-storytelling was seen in the 1960s and 1970s as the newspaper's proper answer to the problems of disruptive technology -- television confronting the boring, stodgy newspaper -- journalism-as-information is seen in the 2000s as the newspaper's proper answer to the problems of disruptive technology -- the Web confronting the boring, stodgy newspaper. The difference seems to be that some of today's critics don't expect the journalist getting onto his steed, free lance in hand, coming back to present the truth, to save the world. They expect the free exchange of information among everyone, enabled by journalists, to save the world. They have more trust in "everyone" than we did.)

Anyhow, Pat can be an angry man, as naming a blog "The Journalism Iconoclast" would indicate. But Pat knows the department store-newspaper link, and wrote a post called "Newspapers are the new general stores" touching on the department store theme. He notes that the problem with big stores -- he uses Woolworth's as a model, then compares it to Wal-Mart -- to say:

"Google, in a sense, is a general store for information. The thing is that Google has a lot of information, just as those gigantic Wal-Marts have a lot of items for sale. A Woolworth is about the size of one department in Wal-Mart." (Some downtown and mall Woolworths were much bigger, but a lot of neighborhood ones were not.)

"Wal-Mart combined the general store idea with a niche — really low prices on non-dollar store goods. ... Google has a niche too; it’s the easiest way to make sense of information and find information on the Web. There is just so much information on the Web that someone had to come along to help us sort through it.

"The thing is, most newspapers don’t have a niche. They're just like Woolworth. They do a lot of things OK, sometimes even relatively well, but excel at nothing. And without a niche, they’ll be overtaken by competitors who cover those individual areas better. ... I used to buy pet fish supplies at Woolworth when I was a kid, but now I can get a much better selection and better prices at Petsmart.

"Sure most dailies have local news, regional news, national news, international news, sports, business, technology, etc., but few excel in any of those areas. Think about how many newspapers still have film critics and even auto critics.

"These movie/entertainment and auto sections are nowhere near the caliber of niche outlets like or (or Car and Driver magazine). With the Web, why would I want to consume inferior, cursory content? I don’t. Many newspapers still operate like there aren’t strong niche competitors."

There's to me a small bit of incoherence to this -- how does Wal-Mart exist, then? Not everyone wants a niche store and many people want everything in one place, even with less selection -- but truth as well. Up until the 1960s department stores could say they offered everything because they offered a high enough percentage of everything to justify the claim. If the basic differences in refrigerators were brand name and size, it was easy to cover the market.

Here was the department store's conundrum: Once you had myriad options (side by side! icemakers! water through the door! silver doors!) from each manufacturer, the space you had to devote to a representative sample of what was available became more larger, to the point where you were making, comparatively, nothing on refrigerators. You could make more money per square foot by selling something else, with a higher markup, in that place. In addition, you could never fully compete with the big-box appliance store's selection.

So you got out of the refrigerator business and used the space for china or clothing or something that you made more money on. But now the customer who was shopping for a refrigerator had no reason to come into your store. Not so bad with a line like refrigerators, perhaps, that aren't bought every day; but the smaller your breadth of goods became, the fewer the number of customers who came into your store. And you had a massive infrastructure to support.

Newspapers have been facing exactly the same problem with stock listings, TV books and the like; space is valuable because it is limited, and while you could once round up the entire TV schedule in three columns, now you would have to devote three pages to it. So you cut back from that field, but the customer who mainly turned to the newspaper for complete TV schedules then no longer buys the newspaper, and is exposed to nothing else in it.

The department store's problem was not that it lost the people who came into the store to buy TV antennas; it lost the people who came into the store to buy TV antennas and then bought a shirt, buttons, shoes and a toaster oven while they were there. Newspapers similarly are losing the people who read the whole paper, but whose main reason for buying it was to check how AT&T was doing that day. (Journalists have the additional problem of not understanding that readers might buy the paper simply to do the Cryptoquote, and of disdaining them as a result.)

But while newspapers do have mediocre content -- and most newspapers do have the local-news niche; we somehow always end up making the top 40 metro dailies stand for all 1,300 daily newspapers -- I am not sure that the real issue is "inferior, cursory content." Much of what newspapers offer is good. The problem for Pat is not quality, but quantity. A newspaper can review a movie, but it only offers one review. Before the Web it could have tried to assemble a "movie page" in which it put together everything it knew about the movie business that day, but if you really, really care about movies you can do this yourself and see more than the newspaper could ever have presented -- because information now is theoretically limitless. Much of that content is going to be inferior and cursory, of course, usually more so than what the newspaper ran; but if you're really into it, do you care? Or do you just want: More. Indeed, feeling that you individually are so informed as to knowingly separate wheat from chaff is part of the emotional payback of the Web.

One of the roles of department stores from the 1930s to 1960s was trying to elevate middle-class taste. Pat is right that most newspapers don't need film critics these days; what we used to call middle-class taste barely exists now. (You either have inculcated what Pauline Kael was saying and gone on from there, or you don't give a damn. In the 1960s there really was a mass of people who wanted to be more sophisticated but had no idea how to go about it. Newspapers and department stores played a huge role in that process. Now, you get it from an early age or you don't.)

What newspapers do need is a film writer who tells the general reader what's new, culls from descriptions of it, and also writes about the local film community -- who's making independent movies, who's trying to establish a film series -- letting the newspaper be a leader in convening the community and enlarging it. And yes, this can operate as well in both the print and online environments. But for large papers, would the theaters stop advertising if you weren't reviewing their products?

In any event, it again shows that the problem facing newspapers is that there is no Problem Facing Newspapers. There are myriad problems in which people argue over which piece of the newspaper bundle they in particular care about.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol. 13

This building (starting at the left and then jogging) at 192 Main St. in Paterson, N.J., was built for the Quackenbush Co., one of the city's two major department stores. Peter Quackenbush, of Dutch descent like so many early residents of Paterson, opened his own store for business in 1878. John Mason became a partner shortly thereafter and the business prospered until the Paterson fire of 1902. (Johnstown, Galveston, San Francisco, Chicago destroyed; Baltimore, Paterson and many other cities hit by major fires; people of that era would have seen Katrina as just another problem. Was it simply easier to rebuild back then, or was it that we were less taken aback, in that post-Civil War era, by disasters? In any event, many a department store operated from tents or neighborhood storefronts until it could rebuild its headquarters.)

Quackenbush had only one child who lived to adulthood, and his health was not good; he went to Colorado Springs in pursuit of relief, and eventually Quackenbush and Mason sold the store to the Spitzes, who had been in business in Union City. Fittingly for this week, Peter Quackenbush was a delegate to the Republican National Convention of 1904, and his resume reads like the most solid of citizens': president of the rescue mission, founder of a home for nurses, builder of a chapel for his church, member of the school board and park commission. Such was the prominence of the local department store owner, particularly when the family that owned your only real competitor, Meyer Bros., lived in Newark and took the train up to run the store.

During the Depression Quackenbush's became part of the Allied Stores chain and then in the 1960s it became part of Stern's, the Times Square department store. When Stern's was bought by Allied in 1951, the company chairman said: "Retailing is a very simple business." He announced plans to open suburban branches. The early 1950s, of course, was when discounters such as E.J. Korvette were beginning to eat department stores' lunch, and New York was a bit less simple than Reading. Eventually Allied developed a two-prong strategy in New York; Stern's expanded into New Jersey, and the Gertz chain, which had grown out of a stationery store in Jamaica, Queens, would carry the flag on Long Island. That left Stern's main store as sort of an afterthought in a declining Times Square, and it was closed, making Stern's a New Jersey chain based at Bergen Mall in Paramus and with a downtown store in Paterson, which wasn't doing well either. Stern's soon moved away to become a nearly ubiquitous store in North Jersey and Meyer Bros. became an extremely low-end department store before burning down in 1991.