TOM WARD - Thank you for 20 wonderful years

TOM WARD - Thank you for 20 wonderful years

It’s a question I get from friends every once in a while: “Did you ever think this would happen?” The first honest answer is “No.” The second is, “I really never thought that far ahead.”

What friends are asking me about is The Valley Breeze, the little 20-page newspaper launched from my living room 20 years ago, on March 27, 1996. On that chilly early spring morning, it was both exhilarating and frightening to take to the streets and deliver the first 10,000 papers. It wasn’t without planning. I had spent weeks telling business owners what was to come (We even printed a prototype!) and asking not only for their advertising support, but for placement of our papers so readers might easily find them. Most were happy to help. I also recall standing for about three hours at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive through on Mendon Road near I-295 that day, as a “captive audience” waited in line for their coffee. I’d chat about our new paper and hand them a copy. It worked pretty well. My wife, Carol, went to RoJack’s. Some of my brothers worked other places, too.

Also with me that day was Jamie Quinn, a smart young graphic artist who I met at the Fall River Herald News, and who decided to partner with me in the effort. We were also joined by Marcia Green, a smart and hard-working journalist who had only a few months earlier left her post at the Pawtucket Times, where she served as both reporter and city editor. We both lived in Cumberland, and we both knew the parent company of our former employer had no future. (Today, those papers have new ownership.) We knew the numbers from the inside back then, and it was clear that paid daily newspapers locally were in a steep decline. It was time to go.

We were also joined by Dave Brouillette, a Cumberland newspaper sales rep who was looking for work. While Dave only spent a few years with us, he was, in fact, the perfect person to help get us off the ground. Brash, quick, and “knowing lots of people,” he got the ad sales moving. I’ll always be grateful to him.

When I faced my first payroll at the kitchen table that week, it only took 15 minutes to phone Barbara Trinidad (she’s Barbara Phinney today) and beg for help. A work-from-home mom and bookkeeper with about 20 clients who I first met at the old Cumberland Business Association meetings, she’s our controller today.

Away from the kitchen table was our “newsroom” at 216 Pound Road, with desks made of cheap hollow-core doors across even-cheaper sawhorses. Jamie had the only powerful computer, and he created the ads. After he went home, I wrote the calendar and put in my photos. I still can see Marcia working on the floor with the family computer, writing her stories and moving them to floppy discs. (I also recall the family bunny getting loose and chewing on some of the electrical wires. She survived.)

There was no business plan: We knew what we wanted to achieve and just kept working.

Who is there to thank? I unashamedly repeat a story I’ve told before, of the day when The Breeze was about six weeks old. As was customary, I’d go out on Thursday evening (our first papers came out on Wednesdays) to move our papers from the bottom to the top of the racks, always making them neat and easy to reach. I showed up at Major Video (remember them?) and was neatening the rack near the counter. A customer had a Breeze in her hand and was waving it excitedly, asking the manager, “Have you seen this? Do you read it? This is the best little paper going!” The manager, Donna, deadpanned while motioning to me, “Tell him. He’s the owner.”

In fact, Marcia and I recall so many people telling us how much they enjoyed the paper in that first year. We weren’t used to hearing that in our former lives, and it kept us going. You kept us going.

And so first I thank God, whose hand and grace I felt at that Major Video moment, who told me that it was going to be OK. All would be well, He said, for my beautiful wife, who had let me jump into business without a parachute, and for our three young daughters, Michaela, Katelyn and Kristen. It would also be OK for our son yet to come, a boy who some longtime readers might remember as “The Disney baby” I wrote about in May of 1997, telling you all about his two-month-early arrival in Florida. Today, Steve is a freshman at URI.

Second, I am grateful to you, our readers, from the woman at the video store to all of you still with us today, new young families as well as those who have been with us these 20 years. We are proud to share your good news.

Finally, to our hundreds of advertisers, who pay each week for more than 62,000 papers and delivery to you. We also thank them for providing good jobs to dozens of some of the nicest and most professional people you’ll ever meet – our employees.

Thank you all so much for welcoming us into your homes since 1996. We look forward with confidence to many more years of your friendship, kindness, and support!

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze newspapers

Comments

Tom:

I'd like to congratulate you and your staff for the great work that you (and they) do each week. I've known you since "Almacs" days, and I'm happy that things worked out as well as they did.

I thoroughly enjoy reading the paper each week, especially your editorials, which just make common sense to all Republicans, and most other people with brains.

I wish you continued luck with the paper.

Mark Lindgren

Hi Tom,

This newspaper is really what keeps our communities pulse beating. For many residents who cannot get to important town meetings, the VB delivers the news to them via online or paper. It gives businesses to ability to advertise and consumers an opportunity to shop and look for jobs and at classifieds. Every time there is an important event at town hall, Ethan Shorey is right there with his laptop covering the event.

Congratulations to 20 years and look forward to 20 more.

Thank you,

Brendan Snodgrass
North Providence

Tom----

You and your staff have done a WONDERFUL job with the Valley Breeze newspaper. While many newspapers have gone out of business, yours became a success. Plus,it's FREE to the public.

We do realize, however, that your advertisers play a great part in your success, but they wouldn't be advertising in your newspaper if it weren't a successful one.

The Valley Breeze is not only accessible via a hard copy but also on a website, which keeps us abreast of the most recent news.

Your reputation precedes you. A successful business is usually led by a great leader and a 'great boss' where its staff is treated fairly and with empathy. Your staff is to be commended for doing such a great job.

Thank you all for your hard work and for keeping the people abreast of the news, etc...

HAPPY 20TH ANNIVERSARY!

Pauline
Woonsocket, RI

A good product with dedicated hardworking people is your winning formula for success. You are a classic example of making it in America. The VB opens up a lot of information that would otherwise be out of the publics sight and offers a little more transparency to our local government. Keep up the good work and thanks for allowing us to express our views too.
Here's to the next 20 years,
Gary Arnold
North Providence

Thank you to you Tom for this lovely inforative local news paper that keeps me up to date with what is happening locally! If the good Lord allows it Ill be around in another 20 years to see the NEXT anniversary hope so!!!

God bless happy EASTER!!!!

Daddy,

As I sat her reading this (crying... as I'm sure Mom, Michaela and Kristen were too), I am happily reminded of grandma bringing us to see "daddy at work" -- all of 10 feet away, in our living room. I am reminded of how this paper was simply a part of our lives, and I am reminded of how to us, at the ages of 9, 7 and 5, it seemed "easy".

I am also reminded of 15 years later, when we started to understand the truth. It was NOT easy, it was hard work and true passion. It was dedication to doing what was right and what was needed in our town. It was scary nights and days of wondering if it was going to workout.

I am so proud of you. I am so proud of what you and The Valley Breeze family have accomplished. I am so proud that you have always stuck to your roots and have spoken your mind. I am proud that when I walk into a location with The Valley Breeze newspapers, I STILL move the bottom papers to the top racks, and have gotten my husband to do the same. I am proud when people ask me "You're Tom's Daughter... Right?" And most of all, I am so proud to have grown up seeing first hand what hard work, dedication and a true passion for your community, your job, and your family will lead to.

I know you didn't think that the paper would make it this far, but I did, WE all did.

I love you Daddy and am so So SO lucky to have been able to watch you build this dream.

-"Katie-Kate"