By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer
Atlantic News, April 8, 2004
[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News.]
HAMPTON -- It started as a decision made with a coin toss 35 years ago, and eventually became a family of publications well-known to Seacoast area residents and visitors alike. This dynasty — still going strong — includes a weekly community newspaper, a vehicle for selling vehicles, and a seasonal beach paper, as well as numerous special supplements that run at various times throughout the year.
The owner has worn many hats — publisher, sales and advertising rep, photographer, editorial writer, deliveryman — in the years he has been in the industry. With his wife an active business partner for the past two-thirds of the journey ("I married into the paper," she affirms), this community-minded individual has seen the good, the bad and the in-between that comes with owning an independent publishing business.
And now, while the going is good, Atlantic News Co-Publishers Howie and Ginny McGee are retiring to Florida, saying "good-bye" to a livelihood that has kept them consistently on the move for decades. Already starting to fill those big suede Hush Puppies is new owner/publisher Mike Connelly, who recently purchased the business (see related article).
"Howie's been a really good guy; he's worked really hard," says Paul Eno, an advertiser (Eno Building Supply in Hampton) for more than three decades and close friend of the McGees. "I'm glad to see he's going out with a bang."
The couple is looking ahead to making the permanent move south this summer, though they certainly aren't ruling out periodic return visits to New Hampshire to spend time with relatives. "They're well-deserving of some good R&R," says Paul's wife Jean, "and I hope Florida treats them well."
Howie — who was a musician with a band in the 60s — first became involved in the publishing business with a 1965 stint at the Lowell Sun, after serving four years in the US Air Force. Though he enjoyed being in a band as well as working for the Sun, there was something about publishing a newspaper that led him to think, "If they can do it, I can do it."
Considering his career options, he tossed a coin — heads or tails, musician or newspaper/ advertising? The latter won out, he says, "so I quit the band after playing for 15 years." He took a position as ad director at Bailey Publishing in Manchester in 1966, and eventually ended up on-staff at the Hampton Union, which at the time published the Beachcomber during the summer months. In 1971, when he "felt there was a need for a competing tourist publication to serve the Seacoast," Howie broke ties with his then-employer and started up the Beach News on his own. "I did most of the sales," he says, as well as paste-up, transporting the flats to the printer and delivering each week's finished product. He hired "a couple of part-time writers," and utilized cold type and offset printing to produce his beach tabloid. He also used "my little seagulls" clip-art "to fill in the holes" whenever there was an excess of white space on a page.
About a year later, with the premiere publication of the Atlantic News ("I decided I wanted to have something year-round"), Howie began his Atlantic Publications corporation. The Atlantic News was, and still is, "the Independent Voice of the Seacoast," a title that's a source of pride for the McGees.
Being in business all these years has naturally brought its share of both highs ("watch[ing] this whole town and beach grow") and lows ("we've seen some heartbreaks"). It's also been fun "knowing a lot of secrets we haven't been able to publish," Ginny laughs.
"The highs in this business are the people you meet and the opportunities that you have," continues Ginny. "We've met all kinds of people, [and] some of them have become very dear friends." Of course, being at the forefront in the local business world brings its own selection of job "hazards." "It kind of takes you aback [to realize] that everybody knows you. It's a little disconcerting," says Ginny, who laughs when she observes that "It's going to be kind of nice living in Florida — anonymously."
What's also nice for the McGees is the assurance that Mike Connelly (a Colorado native who resides in Dover with his wife Michelle) plans to follow the Atlantic News tradition of being an independent publication. "Both Howie and I are thrilled that we were able to sell to an independent," says Ginny, "so that the Atlantic News can remain the 'Independent Voice of the Seacoast.'"
Ginny, who has done double duty at both the advertising and editorial ends of the business, says she won't miss the constant deadlines, working seven days a week in the summer, and having to drive in bad weather, particularly during the winter months. "It gets old!" she says, referring to her work as "a young man's business." She adds, "I'm looking forward to sunshine and no more snow." Still, though, she says the "hardest part about leaving is the people. I'll miss the people."
That includes the Atlantic News staff as well. "I have the best staff in New England," says Howie, "creative graphic artists, creative writers; I appreciate all the hard work [they have] done over the years." Adds Ginny, "All of the staff has been here quite a number of years, and they've become like family."
That sentiment is shared by many of the McGee's regular advertisers, including Liz and William "Sully" Sullivan at Hampton Vision Center, as well as Paul and Jean Eno.
"They're like family," agrees Liz, explaining how she and Sully first met the McGees 11 years ago when Hampton Vision first opened its doors. In that span of time, the business relationship (whether purchasing ad space or a pair of tri-focals) became one of mutual friendship. Liz describes Howie as possessing "a good work ethic" and calls Howie and Ginny "good business people. They're so easy to deal with — there's nothing fake about them."
On a more personal note, Liz recalls the times she and Howie enjoyed speaking German together and talking about World War II. She dubs Ginny "a great spinning partner" at Positive Steps Fitness Center, and claims that "she kept me going" in the exercise studio.
"They're just such nice people [who] like to laugh," says Liz. "I'm going to miss those guys."
"They're always so professional and friendly. They're hard workers; they follow through on everything," says Sully of the McGees, calling them "down-to-earth, friendly and fun. We'll miss them."
Both Howie and Ginny look back with many fond memories on their years with the Atlantic News and the accomplishments they've shared. Being a community newspaper, they have been involved with many events related to the town of Hampton. For instance, there's the commemorative Atlantic News issue celebrating Hampton's 350th anniversary on Tuesday, July 5, 1988 (a copy is tucked away in a time capsule). A special publication dedicated to the opening of the Winnacunnet Community Auditorium is also part of a long list of special supplements appearing in the paper.
In addition, Howie was once named "Man of the Year," has served as NH Fish and Game Commissioner, and is a member of American Legion Post #35 in Hampton. Atlantic Publications has participated annual Christmas events (tree lighting, parade, song books, etc.) as well as the Hampton Beach Children's Festival in August. The McGees established the Atlantic News Scholarship at Winnacunnet High School several years ago, and have developed a solid relationship with SAU21 schools through regular weekly coverage and each month in 21 Voices.
They have also maintained a close business relationship with the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce on a number of levels. For Chamber President BJ "Doc" Noel, his association with Howie goes back 30 years when he was in the grocery business, when he and Howie would work together on his ads. Doc gives high praise to the McGees' dedication to business relations and willingness to "get the word out."
"The Atlantic News has always done an outstanding job," says Doc. "They've always been accommodating [in] anything we've asked them to do." Doc calls the McGees "strongly community minded" and "extremely cooperative in putting Chamber information in the paper." He adds, "They've been an excellent liaison between the Chamber and the community. I certainly wish them the best." "I'm going to be really sad to see them go. They will be missed," says Jean Eno, recalling how Howie and Ginny were the Eno's wedding party at Jane Kelly's chapel about a decade or so ago.
"Howie and Ginny took us to Ron's Beach House [afterwards]," she recalls with a chuckle. "We wined and dined for the better part of a day." As for the future, Jean says "I look forward to clinking some glasses with them down [in Florida] some day."
"I see him down there working for a small paper or selling real estate," says Paul Eno, briefly brushing aside any visions of Howie actually living the life of a retiree.
Both Howie and Ginny McGee offer their "congratulations to Mike and Michelle on their new adventure. [We] just wish them a lot of luck." They also express appreciation for "the support that the business community has given us" and the camaraderie they've shared while "working together to promote the Seacoast area."
"I'd like to thank all the people who have supported us over the years," says Howie. "I think it was very nice of them to have done that."