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East County Thursday, Jun. 9, 2011 8 years ago

Observer Group acquires Pelican Press

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

The Observer Group Inc., publisher of the Observer weekly newspapers and Gulf Coast Business Review, closed Wednesday on the purchase of the Pelican Press and the Pelican Press Marketplace.

The Observer Group acquired the 40-year-old Pelican Press and its sister publication from Journal Community Publishing Group Inc., the Milwaukee, Wis.-based publisher of more than 30 community newspapers and shoppers in Wisconsin, Sarasota and Jacksonville. Journal Community Publishing Group is a division of Journal Communications Inc., a Milwaukee-based, publicly-traded diversified media company.

The price of the sale was not disclosed.

Hugh McGarry, general manager of Journal Community Publishing Group, said the company sold the Pelican Press and Pelican Press Marketplace because of a strategic decision to concentrate on its cluster of newspapers in Wisconsin.

“It has been a great property for Journal Communications with a great team in place,” McGarry said of the Pelican Press. “The acquisition should give the Observer an expanded footprint in the Sarasota market.”

Journal Communications acquired the Pelican Press in June 1998 from Sarasota entrepreneur John Davidson. Davidson founded the Pelican Press in 1971 on Siesta Key as a way to help promote his startup drug store.

A pharmacist by training, Davidson went on to grow his pharmacy and drug store business to three stores in Sarasota and Siesta Key and also publish the weekly Pelican Press.

For the first 20 years of its existence, the Pelican Press primarily served Siesta Key. But over the past two decades, the Pelican broadened its coverage and focused much of its editorial coverage on Sarasota city and county governments and downtown Sarasota. Today, the Pelican has a staff of approximately 10 and an office on Siesta Key.

Like the Pelican Press, The Observer Group also has deep local roots: Longboat Key residents Ralph and Claire Hunter founded its flagship paper, the Longboat Observer, in 1978. They sold the weekly newspaper in 1995 to current owners Matt and Lisa Walsh. Today, the company has more than 80 employees and publishes the Longboat Observer, Sarasota Observer, East County Observer and Gulf Coast Business Review. The company also owns and publishes the Palm Coast Observer, on the east coast of Florida.

With the acquisition of the Pelican Press and its sister shopper, The Observer Group increases the number of newspapers the company publishes to seven.

No immediate changes to the Pelican have been announced, although staffs will work to determine market needs in the near future.

Altogether, The Observer Group newspapers, including the Pelican Press and Pelican Press Marketplace, will distribute 124,500 newspapers a week.

“We’re thrilled to become the next stewards of the Pelican,” said Matt Walsh, CEO of The Observer Group Inc. “Although we have been direct competitors for the past seven years in Sarasota and on Siesta Key, the Pelican is a great fit for our company. We focus on the same thing — helping local businesses with their advertising and providing the Sarasota market with hyper-local community news and information.

“We’re excited about joining our two staffs into a common mission and publishing great newspapers and websites,” Walsh said.

Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected]


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