“Sufficient encouragement has already been given to us in our undertaking to make us feel that our interest in Georgetown and our labors will meet with the approval of a kindly and interested public.”
So wrote Ami Stewart, founding editor and publisher of The Georgetowner, on its front page, dated Oct. 7, 1954. It was Volume 1, Number 1, and sold for ten cents. Stewart, a former sales representative for the Washington Star, laid out the new local newspaper at Little Caledonia, a famed home goods store on Wisconsin Avenue, with the Randolph sisters. Yes, you might call it low-tech, old school,
The newspaper grew with its news and profiles of a quieter time and include homespun ads of retail shops along Wisconsin Avenue and M Street. Already, however, it was on its way to becoming the newspaper whose “influence far exceeds its size” — a quote from fashion designer Pierre Cardin during a garden party. Check the Georgetowner archives and see the story, written before the 1960 election season, on an N Street resident who was planning a run for president: John F. Kennedy.
Stewart ran the Georgetowner until the mid-1970s when she moved to a nursing home. Her assistant editor since the late ’60s had been David Roffman, who took over upon Stewart’s passing and gave the newspaper his own flare, especially during the 1980s. By himself, he swept the streets with an elephant vac, before the work of more formal non-profits. He knew the town when its nightlife was young and on top. His team of writers and sales reps included his brother Randy Roffman. At that time, writer Gary Tischler arrived and remains with the paper and is considered central to its heart and soul.
Publisher David Roffman retired from the newspaper in 2009 and moved south. He still contributes from time to time, as you can see by his opinion piece, “A Portrait of a Georgetowner.” He recalls his own special time here, as so many do, but we would hasten to add the words of Councilman Jack Evans: “Today is the golden age of Georgetown.”
“Small community newspapers are tricky businesses,” said Tischler of the newspaper and Roffman two years ago. “With all due respect to other such publications in this city, no other paper is so associated with place than the Georgetowner. And it’s fair to say that Roffman, when he owned and published the paper, reflected the community in all of its facets. He wasn’t just a publisher, and his efforts weren’t only about stories, scoops, ads, deadlines and headlines. He was the village’s biggest cheerleader and booster.”
Today, owner and publisher Sonya Bernhardt has entered her 13th year at the helm of the newspaper which is now part of the Georgetown Media Group. She publishes the Georgetowner and the Downtowner, directs the business and the group’s presence on the web along with staff and interns. Her passions include the community as well as promotion of small and local businesses. She is also an avid fundraiser for various causes including research for cancer cures. With the newspaper, she is committed to the Georgetown House Tour, the Senior Center, Living in Pink, Volta Park Day and Francis Scott Key Park, to name a few. Many of her other causes echo Roffman’s interests, as do her frustrations as a small business woman. A few of us have laughed, “Sonya, you sound like Dave.”
Bernhardt’s publications reflect a 21st-century vibe and, she says, “the Georgetown lifestyle, focusing on the arts, history, real estate, education, dining, health, fashion and philanthropy.” Her Georgetowner reveals a wider world, while keeping tradition close. Indeed, under her watch, you could read a newspaper that contained an opinion piece by Pierre Salinger, President Kennedy’s press secretary, as well as a style article by a young freelancer.
With a print circulation of 40,000, the Georgetowner is mailed to all Georgetown residents and businesses. The newspapers’ distribution covers parts of D.C., Maryland and Virginia. And, of course, its web site contains all that is in the print product and additional stories and photos not seen in the paper.
So, as the Georgetowner celebrates its 58th birthday, it looks to its past, present and future. It is all there for you to read, both hard copy and digital. Visit www.Georgetowner.com, and look for us on Facebookand Twitter.