For me personally, this is no small thing. For Howell as a community, this is no small thing.
You see, for the first time since before the Civil War, there is no newspaper office in Howell. If you follow what’s been happening in the last few years, that’s not the least bit surprising, but it’s still a punch to the gut for all of us.
What remains of the teeny-tiny staff of the Livingston Daily Press & Argus recently moved out of the building at 323 E. Grand River Ave. in Howell and relocated to some office space at the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce building in Brighton.
This is not their fault. The decision was likely made by somebody at the Gannett Corp. in Virginia who has never been to Livingston County and couldn’t find it on a map. They bought the paper in 2005 and have been systematically destroying it ever since.
But let that historic fact sink in for a moment. In 1843, the first newspaper opened up shop in Howell. The Livingston Courier was its name, and it was first established in Brighton on Jan. 10, 1843. In October of 1843, the newspaper moved to Howell.
Ever since then, all the way up to 2021, there has been a newspaper office in Howell. Sometimes more than one.
And now, nothing.
The building at 323 E. Grand River Ave. has been placed on the market for $600,000, and adding insult to injury, Gannett decided to use a New York real-estate company to handle the sale.
Never mind the fact that dozens of Livingston County real-estate companies have been advertising in that newspaper for decades. Never mind that many of them could have handled the sale extremely well. Never mind that the Daily Press & Argus has always promoted the “buy local” mantra.
Screw that. We’re giving the commission to a company from New York.
Some history about that building. For many years, it housed the IGA supermarket. In 1977, the Livingston County Press bought the building and built a printing plant on the back side of it.
The newspaper offices had been located at 111-113 N. Michigan Ave. in Howell (where Finding Roots is now), and in 1977, they packed up and moved to 323.
At that time, the Brighton Argus and LCP were competitors, but in 1980, the company that owned the Argus – Suburban Communications Corp. – bought out the LCP.
SCC and the Argus were owned by a rich, brash newspaperman named Phil Power. The LCP was owned by a guy named Dick Milliman. In 1980, Phil Power took control of the whole empire, the Argus and LCP came together, and they decided to keep the headquarters and the printing plant at 323 E. Grand River Ave.
This is the part of the story where I come in.
In March of 1983, I came to Howell as the sports editor of the LCP. A year later, I became the sports editor of the Argus, as well, as both jobs merged.
For the next 26 years, I spent my life in that building. My actual office location moved around a lot – the editorial staff was in two other locations in Howell at times, and I also had an office in Brighton for 11 years – but the building at 323 E. Grand River Ave. was still home. Even when my office was in Brighton, I spent just as much time at the building in Howell.
When I first started at the paper, the presses were located in the back of the building. As I’ve written before, there was no better feeling than laying out the paper in the front of the building in the morning and then a couple hours later, walking to the back and grabbing a fresh copy off the presses.
No. Better. Feeling.
It stayed that way until late 1988, when we built a new facility for the presses on Burkhart Road in Howell Township. The newspaper was SO BIG back then that we couldn’t fit everything in the 323 building. Hard to comprehend now.
As anyone would if they spent 26 years of their life working in the same building, I have a zillion and one memories inside that place.
Writing stories, making phone calls, getting into arguments, having great discussions at staff meetings, meeting people who would come in to buy a paper or place an ad, making friends. A zillion and one memories.
I remember going into the office of Rolly Peterson, the chain-smoking publisher, and waving the smoke out of my face while we’d have a great discussion about Michigan basketball.
I remember how the composition department would get dressed up for Halloween every year, and thinking that they always had a lot more fun than those of us in the editorial department did.
I remember how Tim Robinson, our sports editor in the Daily years, would hang a tiny Goodyear blimp above his desk, because the Goodyear blimp always flew over sporting events.
I remember bringing my baby daughter Amelia into the office on Friday nights to lay out the last few pages of the Sunday paper.
Mostly, I remember how alive that building was. All the time. Reporters writing stories, ad people talking to business owners on the phones, composition people laying out pages on those huge tables, the women in the business office typing on their typewriters and then computers.
It was so alive.
Twenty-six years. Hundreds and hundreds of co-workers. A zillion and one memories.
The last time I ever set foot in that building was in early 2009 when they told me that my job was being eliminated and I was getting laid off. Any bitterness I felt about that day has long since disappeared, because it set my life on a much better path.
And when I think about that building, I don’t remember that day at all. That was a sad day for me. I remember all the great days. Some of the best days of my life were spent inside 323 E. Grand River Ave., and that’s what I’m remembering today.
And that’s why I’m so horribly sad to know that the newspaper has abandoned that building. Even though I haven’t worked there for 12 years, I always loved driving by that building and knowing there were still newspaper people inside, doing newspaper things.
That’s my story. And that’s why I’m sad today.
And here’s why Howell should be sad today.
This has been a looooong time coming, but the community just lost one of its cornerstone businesses. The hundreds of people who used to work at that building have slowly been laid off or retired or forced out, so the financial impact on the downtown has been a slow drip. Back in 1985, there were a hundred or so LCP employees heading out every day to get lunch or buy gas or hit the bars or whatever in Howell. Now there are none.
So there’s that. There’s also a huge empty eyesore building downtown now. It’s always been a butt-ugly building – with its tiny windows and ugly brick siding – but now it’s an empty butt-ugly building.
The parking lot is overgrown and looks like crap. The little garden area out front, where the Michigan Historical Marker sits, is overgrown and disgusting. We used to take such care to plant flowers there every year. Now it looks terrible.
I hope that the company from New York finds a worthy new owner for the building. I have no idea what kind of tenant that will be, but that entire property is going to just keep uglier and more depressing by the day until they find someone. There’s a rumor it’s already been sold. I hope that’s true.
And finally, there’s the emotional impact this has on the community of Howell. Every time a business closes or moves out of town, it takes a chunk of our soul with it. This one is huge.
The Livingston Daily Press & Argus died a long time ago. It’s a nothing newspaper now, with almost no local content or connection. That’s the fault of Gannett, not the fault of the four or five people who are now working in Brighton.
This is the final nail in the coffin. So as they shovel dirt on it, let’s all raise a glass to the butt-ugly building at 323 E. Grand River Ave.
Here’s to you. And thanks for the memories.