52nd City is going down a road well-traveled

Sylvester Brown jr.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
November 16, 2006
Section: Metro
Edition: Third Edition Page C1

"Having no official office yet, we often hold our editorial meetings in bars. Or, bar - Riley's Pub, on Arsenal."

As I read the editor's comments inside 52nd City, a new, local, quarterly publication, bittersweet thoughts crossed my mind: "Been there. Done that. No plans of ever going back."

My wife, Vicki, and I published our own monthly magazine for 15 grueling years. I still hold a soft spot for those who choose that crazy, competitive endeavor. Such folk carry a special mix of naiveté, depravity and a huge hunk of hope, to dare dream that their publication will be the next Vibe, Village Voice or Vogue." Most, like mine, Take Five, simply die from advertising or subscription starvation.

That's OK. If done right, an aspiring publisher can help launch careers, earn valuable, lifelong contacts and maybe even touch a life along the way.

Take Five was an "interactive" publication of sorts that did more than write about crime, education and economic development. It held forums, seminars and rented buses for shopping tours at black businesses. We encouraged readers to get involved in the community.

The founders and editors of 52nd City, Thomas Crone, Andrea Avery and Stefene Russell, share the lives of St. Louisians through poetry, photography and essays. The trio hopes to attract readers who appreciate the unique, quirky and creative side of the region. In a sense, they're selling St. Louis to St. Louisians.

The publication, which debuted on the Web in January and became an honest-to-goodness-for-sale ($8) lit mag in April, features the work of artists who currently live or have spent time in the region. Each magazine has a theme - the first, "Work," the second, "Faith," and the third and most recent offering, "Drink."

KWMU newscaster Tom Weber's essay "On Texting An Ex At 3:00 A.M" gives a glimpse at today's high-tech relationships:

"Tracy: ok ill call u tom ... "

"Scott: no u wont youll call next time you have 2 many margs ... "

I wonder if Richmond Heights resident Michael McCarthy's "A Field Guide To The Lesser Brands" took others down memory lane. The teetotaler's reflection on the "really bad booze" of his youth made me think of my father's favorite beers, "905" and "Miller High Life." My stomach bubbled when he reminisced about "MD 20/20," known as "Mad Dog" back in my day. It was another of my father's favorites. It's the wine that made me pasty-faced sick, as a teen, after stealing several swigs from my dad's bottle.

I revisited a dark time with my publication when I read local activist Eric E. Vickers' short story in the second issue of 52nd City. Back in 1996, my predecessor, Greg Freeman wrote a column detailing that I was about to close my business.

"Perhaps most painful to Brown was that while the paper was losing money, it was winning awards," Freeman wrote. "But awards don't pay the bills, and they've been piling up at Brown's door. He's gradually come to the painful conclusion that it's time to pull the plug."

A couple of days after Freeman's column appeared, Vickers called me to his office and presented me with a check for a substantial amount that he and others in the community had raised.

"We need Take Five on the streets," Vickers said, waving off my thanks.

Although our farewell issue came in 2003, many, many people who were touched by the publication kept us swinging for more years than we expected.

My conversation Wednesday with Andrea Avery, one of the founders of 52nd City, reminded me of my old hand-to-mouth, sweet and sour publisher's life.

"It's fun sitting around, going through submissions and ideas - that part is fun," Avery said. "The hard part is the advertising, and distribution - the business part of publishing."

Been there, done that.

They'll have challenges. But if they do it right, they'll touch a few lives along the way.

For more information visit: www.52ndcity.com