Tried to make a go of running paper, but it was tough

The Villager’s look has gone through changes before as seen in these front pages from summer 1989. In June, the Village Reform Democrats Club — formed as a breakaway “pro-Koch” faction of the Village Independent Democrats — refused to endorse Ed Koch for mayor, partly over the city’s plan to dock a prison barge, the Bibby Venture, at Pier 40, and also because they felt a “need for V.R.D.C. to better reflect the needs of its Village constituents.” Meanwhile, in July, police cleared the massive Tent City out of Tompkins Square Park.

BY ROYCE ROWE  |  I  guess I can take credit, or blame, for saving The Villager from extinction. I bought the paper in about 1973 or 1974 from owners Ed McDougall and Jack Raymond. Ed was an executive at the American Banker magazine, and Jack was a former New York Times reporter who had gone into public relations. They had bought The Villager in about 1970, and found they couldn’t devote enough time or money to make it a success.

I had been urged to buy the paper by a friend who worked for the Dow Jones News Service while I worked for the Wall Street Journal. By this time I had gone to work at WNBC-TV, and was the producer of weekend news programs. Working weekends at NBC left me free to work at The Villager on Mondays and Tuesdays. After I had made a deal with McDougall and Raymond, my potential partner backed out.

I foolishly went ahead, however, hoping to find other partners, and also hoping to find people so filled with community spirit that they would help put out a useful neighborhood weekly for little or no monetary compensation. By far the biggest “volunteer” was William Bowser, who later became well-known for creating the garden across from St. Vincent’s Hospital where the old Loew’s Sheridan Theater had stood. Bill wrote an enormous number of well-informed pieces under his own name, and a series of pieces about neighborhood history under the pseudonym William Patton.

On the business side, a young lady, Francene Turken, worked diligently selling advertising, receiving only a small commission. I was able to pay a small, but regular wage to Miriam Bockman, who took charge of advertising and production.

We were able to breathe enough life into the paper to increase the pages, but at considerable expense. We were never successful in attracting large advertisers like supermarkets, which could buy one or two full pages a week. We did get an occasional full page from Greenwich Savings Bank. The Villager was becoming an editorial success, but remained a business failure.

At some point I sold the paper outright to Martin Shaer, a real estate broker who managed some sizeable apartment buildings on Hudson St. Marty made a good effort, but couldn’t make a go of it either, and after about a year defaulted on the debt he owed me, and said I could take the paper back. I still needed a partner, so offered Marty 20 percent of a restructured ownership, and sought other partners who could put in new money, including Jack Meserole, a book designer who lived on 11th St., and Tom Barbour, an actor who lived on Perry St. We struggled on for another year, but still couldn’t stem the losses.

So we sold the paper to Michael Armstrong, who seemed to have made a success of a community paper he had started in Brooklyn in 1972. He brought new energy to the paper, but ran into serious problems, as I did.