Business Ins & Outs, Jan. 10, 2018

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Washington City Paper and new owner Mark Ein. Photo by Neshan H. Naltchayan.

News Outlets Make Their Own Headlines
The year 2017 ended and the year 2018 began with a couple of bangs in local journalism. The endangered Washington City Paper was saved by entrepreneur Mark Ein and the Current Newspapers, Inc., filed for Chapter 11. While the first item is a happy rescue, the second bit of news is a cry for a lifeline. (A bit earlier, in November, snarky online news outlet DCist closed unexpectedly.)

Mark Ein Buys Washington City Paper
It’s a good news story in the world of print journalism. On Dec. 21, local entrepreneur and investor Mark Ein, founder of the Washington Kastles World Team Tennis franchise and chairman and CEO of Capitol Investment Corp IV and Venturehouse Group, LLC, announced his intent to purchase the ailing Washington City Paper from Nashville-based owner SouthComm, Inc. The newspaper was for sale since October with no buyer in sight.

Ein’s surprising pre-Christmas involvement energized and delighted the feisty newspaper’s staff and supporters. Social media comments included “Much like Tiny Tim, the Washington City Paper @wcp did NOT die” and “Bountiful holiday gratitude.”

Besides providing financial stability, Ein intends to add a group of advisors as well as an alumni group of former WCP staffers. Alexa Mills remains as WCP editor. “It’s impossible to overstate the importance of high quality journalism — particularly today,” Ein said.

“Every thriving community needs strong local news, and Washington City Paper has been a critical part of the fabric of our city, and a great incubator of journalistic talent, for decades,” he added. “With a talented staff and the support of our initial groups of respected journalistic veterans and business and civic leaders, I want to do everything I can to insure that the City Paper continues producing great journalism and responsible local news for decades to come.”

The sale is to be completed by this week. As to the transaction, “Ein paid $50,000 and agreed to assume the paper’s lease,” according to Washingtonian magazine.

Current Newspapers Files for Chapter 11
This is a bad news story in the world of print journalism. The Current Newspapers, Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Jan. 3.

Headquartered at 5185 MacArthur Boulevard NW, the newspaper company celebrated its 50th anniversary in November. It began in 1967 as the Potomac Current but changed its name to the Northwest Current, later adding editions for Chevy Chase, Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom and Georgetown. It hopes to restructure the business and operate normally, with the first issue of 2018 expected Jan. 10. The company’s lawyer is Philip McNutt of Hughes & Bentzen, PLLC, on Connecticut Avenue.

According to records at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, the Current Newspapers has more than $1.2 million in liabilities and less than $50,000 in assets. The biggest debtor claims include $180,000 by Gannett Company printers and $105,000 by Bartash Printing, Inc., of Philadelphia. (The deadline for filing claims is May 18; for claims by the government, July 2.)

Davis Kennedy, the Current’s editor and publisher, who bought the company in 1994, wrote in a letter to the court: “Due to an interruption in cash flow resulting from outside printing costs, the Company needs to reorganize its business operations and finances in order to continue to serve its constituents with the same quality they have come to expect over the past number of years.”

ICYMI: Recent Ins & Outs of Note

Leaving in ’18: Morton’s the Steakhouse. According to the property owner of the complex, Georgetown Court, 3251 Prospect St. NW, as well as a real estate agency, Morton’s, the upscale steak restaurant, will depart its Georgetown location during the first half of next year. Morton’s has been on Prospect Street for almost 30 years. Connor McCarthy of Miller Walker Retail Real Estate said the 7,000-square-foot retail-restaurant space will be available in the spring of 2018 and has advertised it as such. Morton’s has not responded to inquiries from The Georgetowner.

IN: Paradiso Game Room is coming to Pizzeria Paradiso, 3282 M St. NW. It’s a basement game room with darts, pinball, video games and other playful activities.

IN: Guapo’s Tex-Mex restaurant will open soon at Washington Harbour, 3050 K St. NW, next to Nick’s Riverside Grill in front of the ice rink. The family-owned business has other locations in Tenleytown; Shirlington, Virginia; and Bethesda, Maryland.

Out: Johnson’s Florist & Garden Center, 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW, the go-to garden business known to generations of Georgetowners, will close by Jan. 14. The 84-year-old business announced the closure in a letter and cited a “significant” hike in rent “and other related fees of occupancy” by the property owner, American University. While its location off Van Ness Street will close, Johnson’s will continue to operate other stores in Kensington and Olney, Maryland. A demonstration to save the Tenleytown store was held at AU’s Katzen Arts Center on Jan. 4.

OUT: The Daily Grill restaurant at the Georgetown Inn, 1310 Wisconsin Ave. NW, closed Dec. 17.

OUT: Unum restaurant, 2917 M St. NW, served its last meal Dec. 16. For six years, helmed by chef Phillip Blane, who arrived from Equinox, Unum lived up to its name and gastronomical ambitions.

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