From humble start to vital role Newspapers rode ups, downs of business climate they covered

It was 1982. Ronald Reagan was president. The nation was in recession. Business was bad. Words such as “Rust Belt” were entering the economic vernacular.

What a great time to start a business newspaper.

As it turned out, it indeed was the right time — at least in Boulder. While the rest of the country was foundering economically, Boulder was incubating new businesses right and left. Few knew about it, however, because the local daily newspapers weren’t fully covering the phenomenon.

It didn’t take long for at least one local journalist to realize that a publishing opportunity was ripe. And in 1982, a slim business monthly called the Boulder Business Report was born.

Three decades later, with numerous state and national awards hanging on its conference-room walls and two additional business newspapers in its publication stable, it has become clear, as its various owners tell the paper’s story, that the Boulder Business Report was a good idea — and maybe even a great one.

‘Zan’ starts small

The paper was the vision of Suzanne Gripman, known then to friends and colleagues as “Zan.” Today, she goes by Suzanne Pletcher. Armed with a journalism degree and a love of publishing, she launched it from a tiny office in downtown Boulder with a $500 loan from her mother.

Suzanne Gripman

“I lived in my office for three or four months because I couldn’t afford two rents,” Gripman recalled.

Gripman did everything — the reporting and writing, the paste-up, the ad sales.

“I remember meeting Mike Trent of Standard Office Supply” in Boulder, she said. “I had ‘hard up’ written all over my face when I arrived to sell him an ad. He bought a year’s worth of advertising, and we traded some of it for office furniture.”

Eventually things got better.

Gripman received a line of credit at a local bank. Although the paper was relatively unknown in the larger community, it was a hit almost immediately with business-to-business salespeople, who used it for leads.

Gripman began to hire staff — first an advertising salesperson and then, in 1984, a cub reporter named Jeff Schott. Little did she know that five years later Schott would become a co-owner of the Business Report.

New owner, new name

Publishing is tough, and even with the additional help, by 1986 Gripman was burned out. She was in the process of selling the paper to the now-defunct University Free Press when she got another offer. It came from Fred Ayers, a former executive vice president at medical equipment manufacturer Valleylab Inc.

The deal with the Free Press already was in escrow, but Ayers was offering more. For $10,000, he became the paper’s new owner. For his money he got the paper’s name, a few files and Schott.

Ayers quickly hired a publisher, Rhett Speer, who came on as a minority owner; an editor, Victoria Cooper, and the paper’s first staff writer, Nancy Nachman-Hunt.

Schott switched from reporting to sales and became advertising sales manager.

Speer changed the paper’s name to the Boulder County Business Report, and changed the circulation of the paper so that it was mailed directly to management of the leading businesses in the county.

Speer also came up with the idea for the Business Report’s first ancillary product, the Boulder County Technology/Manufacturer’s Directory, and the paper began to grow both its pages and its recognition.

But by 1986, the nation’s economic woes had finally hit Boulder County. For the next two years, the paper didn’t turn a profit and by 1988 Ayers had lost his enthusiasm for publishing.

On the day before Thanksgiving that year, he shut the paper down and began advertising it for sale.

“The thing I’d learned was that I didn’t understand publishing well enough to be able to carry it forward,” the now-retired Ayers recalled in 2001. “I said, ‘Enough is enough,’ I needed to go back to the things I understood. I can laugh about it now, but those were very difficult times.”

Back from the dead

But Schott wasn’t ready to let go of the paper he had helped grow. He started to long for partners who might buy into it. Through Cooper he heard that Jerry W. Lewis, the business editor at the Denver Post, was leaving his position there. At about the same time he received a call from local entrepreneur Jirka Rysavy. Rysavy, now recognized for founding two Broomfield-based corporate giants, Corporate Express and Gaiam Inc., in 1988 owned the Boulder office supply store Business Express.

First staff of the Boulder County Business Report for the Lewis-Schott era in 1989. Back row, from left, Cindy Robbins, Jerry W. Lewis and Nancy Condiff. Front row, from left, Jeff Schott, Bert Ross and Chris Wood. BCBR FILE PHOTOGRAPH

“He’d seen an article in the Daily Camera saying the Business Report was up for sale,” Schott recalled. “He asked me how much it would take to buy it. ‘Do you want to be a partner?’ and ‘Do you have anyone in mind to help you run it?’ I told him I’d heard that Jerry Lewis from the Post was leaving and said maybe he would be interested.”

Indeed, Lewis was. The two had lunch and agreed to invest with Rysavy to buy the paper. They formed Boulder Business Information Inc., and put out the first issue of the new Boulder County Business Report in February 1989.

With a small staff and little overhead, the first issue made money.

From 1989 to 1995 the company consistently experienced double-digit growth. Businses was so good during the first half of the 1990s that Lewis and Schott decided to add another paper to Boulder Business Information’s stable. In 1995, they agreed to help launch the Northern Colorado Business Report, the brainchild of two veterans of the Denver Business Journal.

Chris Wood, who Lewis hired in 1989 as a reporter and who later became managing editor of the DBJ, and Jeff Nuttall, one of the DBJ’s top salespeople, had come to Lewis and Schott with the idea. Both believed that Larimer and Weld counties were ripe for a business newspaper.

They were right. The area was so ripe, in fact, that others had seen the opportunity, too.

By 1996, NCBR found itself in the midst of a three-way business newspaper war in Northern Colorado. It was competing with newly launched Business Today, published by Lehman Communications Corp., which at the time owned the daily newspapers in Loveland, Longmont and Canon City, and Northern Colorado Business, published by a former business editor at the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

“Immediately there were three business newspapers in a market we had questioned could support one,” Lewis said.

Two years later it was NCBR that was left standing.

In 1999 came The Wyoming Business Report — at first a quarterly and now a monthly business newspaper with circulation throughout the Equality State.

During Lewis’ and Schott’s tenure, the BCBR and NCBR went from monthly to bi-weekly newspapers and launched several business-recognition events: the annual Innovation Quotient (IQ) Awards and Health Care Heroes in the Boulder Valley, Mercury 100, recognizing the 100 fastest-growing local companies in both markets, and the Bravo! Entrepreneur Awards in Northern Colorado.

Into the new millennium

During the 2000s, Lewis and Schott kept growing the paper, expanding news coverage, creating new business events and providing readers with improved business data and research.

The crew at the Boulder County Business Report in 2007. JONATHAN CASTNER PHOTO

In 2008, after 18 years of carving an award-winning niche in Boulder Valley publishing, Lewis and Schott sold their interest in the Boulder County Business Report to Ohio-based Brown Publishing Co.

Lewis, Schott and Rysavy sold their stock in Boulder Business Information Inc., the company that owned the Boulder County Business Report and majority interest in the Northern Colorado Business Report in Fort Collins, the Wyoming Business Report in Cheyenne, Wyo. and DataJoe LLC, a Lakewood-based e-commerce company that provides research tools for business journals and trade publications internationally.

Wood was named publisher of the BCBR and Nuttall moved from co-publisher at NCBR to its publisher. Wood and Nuttall became employees of Brown Publishing but retained ownership stakes in NCBR, WBR and DataJoe.

Brown Publishing, a third-generation family-owned business, was headed by president and chief executive Roy Brown. The company owned more than 70 daily and weekly newspapers and magazines in small markets in Ohio, Texas, Iowa, New York and South Carolina. It also began buying business publications at a fast pace.

At the same time, however, the national economy was tanking, and Brown Publishing ran into financial difficulty. In April 2010, the owners and executives of Brown and its subsidiaries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and formed a new company to bid on the companies’ assets.

Roy Brown, Joel Dempsey and Joseph Ellingham formed Brown Media Corp. to bid $15.3 million on the 109 publications and websites they filed for bankruptcy under The Brown Publishing Co. and other entities, which was straddled with about $94 million in debt.

Roy Brown, center, president and CEO of Brown Publishing Co. in Ohio, became the owner of the Boulder County Business Report. From left, Chris Wood and Jeff Nuttall, former co-publishers of the Northern Colorado Business Report, who became publisher of the Boulder County Business Report and publisher of the Northern Colorado Business Report in Fort Collins, respectively, and Jerry W. Lewis and Jeff Schott, who sold their interest in Boulder Business Information Inc., the umbrella company that owned the Business Reports in Boulder and Fort Collins, as well as the Wyoming Business Report.

Brown Media Corp. won an auction bid to regain the newspapers, but when a key Brown backer dropped out, a series of court proceedings resulted in lenders for Brown Publishing Co., Brown Media Holdings and affiliated businesses purchasing the chain of community and business publications, including the Boulder County Business Report, in September 2010.

Ohio Community Media LLC, the company formed by secured lenders, completed the purchase Sept. 3.

The company today

Ohio Community Media’s plan was to sell the publications and cut its losses.

Wood and Nuttall seized the opportunity. They formed BizWest Media LLC and acquired the BCBR, NCBR and WBR in February 2011. BizWest, through its ownership of Northern Colorado Business Report Inc., also controls DataJoe.

“This is a milestone for our publications,” Wood said at the time. He continues as publisher of the Boulder County Business Report.

“For Chris Wood and me, the idea of owning our newspapers has been an unrealized dream for more than 15 years,” Nuttall said. “It’s a surreal feeling to finally have achieved our goal.

“This is a dynamic and exciting time to be in the publishing business, as the web and mobile delivery create new opportunities. As an entrepreneur, I look forward to exploring how our digital products will complement our print editions and events in the years to come.”