Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
True Genius: How to go from “the future of journalism” to a fire sale in a few short years
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Aug. 11, 2021, 11:24 a.m.

In Nebraska, a weekly paper is filling its community’s need for news — and booze

“We had all this space in the back that wasn’t being used because we don’t have printing presses anymore.”

If you’re running a news outlet and having a hard time getting your readers to pay for your work, here’s an idea: Turn a back room into a liquor store.

It’s worked out well so far for The Stapleton Enterprise in the town of Stapleton, Nebraska (population: 357).

Earlier this year the Omaha World Herald wrote about the paper and I had to know more. Marcia Hora is the owner and publisher of Creative Printers, a printing shop that also publishes three weekly community newspapers: The Stapleton Enterprise, the McPherson County News, and the Thomas County Herald. (Creative Printers also sells greeting cards and office supplies.) Like lots of Stapleton residents, Hora is involved in the community outside of her work and especially focused on making Stapleton self-sufficient.

Four years ago, she and a few others got together to buy the local grocery store that was failing. They got it up and running again but, over time, noticed that fewer people were shopping in the store. In 2020, with Hora now on the board of directors for the cooperative market, they surveyed residents all over Logan County about what they wanted to see in the grocery store.

The answer? Wine and spirits.

The grocery store’s shareholders didn’t really want to sell alcohol, but Kendra Cutler, the editor of The Stapleton Enterprise and the granddaughter of the woman who started the grocery store, had a better idea: why don’t we do it ourselves?

“It was Kendra’s idea,” Hora said. “She came up with the name and we had all this space in the back that was not being utilized because we don’t have [printing] presses anymore. My husband and her husband tore down the presses, the old paper cutter, and all the antique equipment that we had that we weren’t using, and we just started remodeling this area into a super cool little liquor store.”

Cutler’s theory was that people in Stapleton were driving out 30 miles to North Platte, Nebraska, to buy their alcohol, and doing other shopping while they were there. Opening up a liquor store in Stapleton could keep people shopping locally.

Herbie’s Speakeasy (named after Nebraska Huskers mascot Herbie) isn’t the only publisher leaning into vice to subsidize news. Last week, BuzzFeed launched its own cannabis brand; it also launched a sex toys partnership last year. In March, the Toronto Star’s parent company Torstar announced its plan to launch an online casino. Gambling/weed/sex toys/alcohol can also introduce consumers to news brands they might not have been familiar with otherwise.

Hora and Cutler the newspaper’s only two employees, host whiskey and wine tastings featuring Nebraska-made alcohols every month. They have catering licenses so they can provide alcohol at their events, as well as other community gatherings like school fundraisers.

“We had our grand opening [in October 2020] and we sold $2,200 worth of alcohol in six hours,” Hora said. “At the whiskey and wine event, we took in over $2,000 in four hours. We had people drive three and a half hours to come here just to see it.”

Today, Hora says that alcohol makes up about a quarter of Creative Printers’ total retail sales. The newspapers are still supported by advertising and subscribers, but the goal is to support the village of Stapleton overall.

Hora estimated that the startup costs were around $50,000, between remodeling the room, getting the necessary licenses, and of course, building up the inventory. The pandemic ended up boosting sales, partly because people weren’t able to go to bars.

“They liked the decor,” Hora said. “They liked how we had done it. It’s just unique.”

Herbie’s Speakeasy can be found behind a sliding barn door inside Creative Printers, and though it’s not technically a speakeasy because it doesn’t offer bar service, it’s piqued the curiosity of people from all over Nebraska. Hora and Cutler decorated the room with pieces of Stapleton history and photos from the Enterprise’s archives, which they’ve also started selling.

Sometimes people who are new to Stapleton will come through the store and have no idea that alcohol isn’t Creative Printers’ main business. Others have expressed concern that the liquor store will make it too easy for underage people to get alcohol. Hora and Cutler invite anyone in who’s curious about Herbie’s and will often give new visitors a copy of the paper along with their purchase.

In May, Hora and Cutler hosted a wine and roses event for Mother’s Day. They partnered with a local florist who created several bouquets and people could come in to buy flowers, wine, and cards for their mothers.

“We’ve kind of got a man cave vibe going on here,” Cutler said. “We’ve had people ask, ‘Would you let us play cards in here?’ ‘Would you let us have book club in here?’ We’ve talked about it, but there comes a time where we have to go home.”

Photo courtesy of Creative Printers.

POSTED     Aug. 11, 2021, 11:24 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
 
Join the 50,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
True Genius: How to go from “the future of journalism” to a fire sale in a few short years
Genius (née Rap Genius) wanted to “annotate the world” and give your content a giant comment section you can’t control. Now it can’t pay back its investors.
This study shows how people reason their way through echo chambers — and what might guide them out
“You really don’t know whether this person making a good-sounding argument is really smart, is really educated, or whether they’re just reading off something that they read on Twitter.”
Misinformation is a global problem. One of the solutions might work across continents too.
Plus: What Africa’s top fact-checkers are doing to combat false beliefs about Covid-19.