By Leah S. Dunaief
In the crunch of reporting the latest COVID-19 news and working remotely to the extent possible last week, we failed to notice our media company’s anniversary. Last Wednesday marked the 44th year since we offered the first issue of our first newspaper, The Village Times, to the community.
For me, that is akin to forgetting my birthday; so exciting and memorable were those early days. After incredibly long hours and endless hard work, we had created something that had never before existed and both proudly and nervously had given it to the residents to judge. Would they become engaged or would they ignore our efforts? Would they find what we published to be relevant and important to their lives or would they just go on without us? Such are the thoughts and fears of entrepreneurs.
I was just asked recently why I wanted to start a newspaper. I had to stop and remember what life was like on April 8, 1976, because we were certainly a product of our times. My husband and I had come with our children to live here on the North Shore of Suffolk County largely because of the university. The State University at Stony Brook was just in its earliest years, a medical center was planned, and my husband wanted to practice his specialty, along with a research hospital affiliation, wherever we settled. That’s the way it was then: a physician hung out a shingle wherever he wanted a private practice and began to see patients.
We were utterly charmed by the picturesque village of Stony Brook, with its quality schools, rich Revolutionary War history, cultural offerings and unending recreational opportunities both on land and on the Sound. After a time, we came to learn there existed a seemingly unbridgeable town-gown split. Thousands of new university hires and students were pouring into the community every year, in some ways upending the peaceful existence of longtime residents, even as they prompted property values to soar. The 1960s were, anyway, unsettling times, with the Vietnam War, assassinations and bursts of protests in the streets. Yet the small villages offered a peaceful and fulfilling existence, it seemed to me, if only there could be better communication between the university and the residents.
I had been thinking, as I worked for Time Inc. in New York City, about what I imagined were the joys of owning a community newspaper: meeting residents, serving their needs for information, providing a “town hall” for dialogue from all points of view, offering opinion through editorials, tracking local accomplishments in the arts, sciences, sports and cultural worlds and strengthening the sense of community for protection and pride.
So when my youngest of three started first grade, I saw my opportunity. I assembled what turned out to be a brilliant and committed team of largely other housewives, sold shares to families in order to capitalize the venture, rented an office on Route 25A in Setauket, and we were off. The thrill and excitement of creating a newspaper to serve a community could fill a book, and perhaps one day it will. There are so many stories, some side-splitting funny, some tough moments, some amazingly stupid mistakes, so many honors and awards for encouragement, and the bottom line: here we are, 44 years later.
Speaking of the bottom line, like so many other small businesses, we are in an unprecedented position now, with our traditional advertisers shuttered and their customers shut-ins. Our revenues have dramatically dropped, yet we feel it is our ethical duty to keep our communities informed of the latest information concerning COVID-19 via print and daily internet, yet our expenses continue. Indeed, we have been designated as “essential,” and we are publicizing every week, at no cost to them, other such businesses that are open, including restaurants and pharmacies.
These are our papers and internet presence. They are also yours. We trust we are serving you well.
Please note last week’s column contained several errors for which I humbly apologize. Please check any information that you might use. My thanks to the readers that pointed out the errors.