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Owners trying to get out of newspaper business

April 03, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Only four items were listed for sale in Friday's Shepherdstown Chronicle: A piano, 275-gallon oil tanks, Christian books and The Shepherdstown Chronicle.

The husband-and-wife owners of the Chronicle, John Lehman and Mary Corcoran, are trying to sell the tabloid weekly newspaper they started almost nine years ago.

Lehman, who handles layout and advertising sales, said Corcoran, the editor and business manager, will turn 65 in January and wants to retire.

Lehman, 59, doesn't want to run the newspaper without her, and he is thinking about returning to teaching.

The couple has talked to two or three potential buyers, but "we haven't gotten to the price yet," he said.

Lehman and Corcoran also have a broker helping them talk to a possible buyer in Virginia who is forming a newspaper chain.

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"Owners are nearing retirement and want to sell to someone who knows and loves our community," the couple's classified ad in their own paper reads.

Lehman declined to reveal the asking price. If a suitor appears serious about buying, then money will be discussed, he said.

The couple first put the paper on the market about a year ago. "We got seller's remorse," Lehman said. "It was looking like things could really happen. We decided we weren't ready. Now, we're ready."

The Chronicle's approach is firmly local. There is a mix of milestones, columns and news. Stories about land issues have dominated March's front pages, and the arts get plenty of coverage, too.

"The Shepherdstown magisterial district ... has the highest income in West Virginia, and I'm assuming it's much more educated, not just because of the college," Lehman said. "There are a lot of empty-nesters moving in. ... The bulk (of Shepherdstown) is more educated, older, more affluent than is generally found."

"We're writing to intelligent people," he continued. "We don't dumb down."

Therefore, crime has its place, and it's usually not on page 1.

There is a front-page report in Friday' issue about last week's bomb scare. Lehman said it will mark just the third time a crime has been a lead story.

The other two - a bank robbery and a murder - couldn't be ignored. But Lehman noted proudly that the paper did just one story on each.

That doesn't mean the paper ignores police calls. The weekly police log is popular and is listed in a front-page index, he said.

The barking dog in Brown's Alley was a constant in the log for about a year. The complaints have stopped, perhaps because the dog died, Lehman said.

City people often find such small-town flavor quaint, he said.

On some pages, Lehman offers friendly prods. One filler, in the form of a dictionary entry, says: "Acculturate v. To adapt to a different culture. Newcomers - acculturate yourselves to Shepherdstown."

Another reads, "Recognize & Respect the rights of others - even when those rights annoy you."

"City people - Learn country manners," says another.

When he's inserting those space fillers, "I don't have to be balanced and objective," Lehman said. "I can just be me."

The message are intended to foster an idyllic closeness that at times gets lost, he explained.

Friendly nods and smiles on the sidewalks shouldn't go out of style, he said.

"The recent in-movers are not meeting the people who live here a long time," Lehman said. "They're meeting other recent in-movers."

Lehman left his job as a counselor and teacher at Shepherdstown Junior High School when he and his wife began publishing the Eastern Panhandle Real Estate Guide in 1986.

After five years, they sold it to the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Md.

The couple's daughter, Erin Pauley, the manager of the guide, was part of the deal. Lehman said he insisted that the new owners find a job for her.

Another daughter, Debi Cook, is the only other Chronicle staff member. She works a few hours a week as a typesetter from her home in Lynchburg, Va. The couple faxes Cook copy, and she types it and e-mails it back.

The Chronicle has a two-room storefront on South Duke Street, but is printed at the Record-Herald in Waynesboro, Pa. Its circulation is about 1,800, which includes rack sales plus about 1,100 subscribers, Lehman said.

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