New digs adds to moving experiences

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by admin on October 27, 2010

We started on my parents’ dining room table.

Obviously, there was no office when The Low Down to Hull and Back News stirred to life back in 1973. My father, Art, decided to start the paper when Kitty, a professional librarian, about to give birth to me, and contemplating being trapped at home with nothing to do, momentarily weakened and said yes.

It was a stupid place to start a newspaper, given that about 20 grocery stores stretched over a 40-mile ribbon of highway were the only possible advertisers. But Kitty said okay, and The News was born on our dining room table.

Back then, there were no fancy computers to do page design. Initially, the Mantell house didn’t even have a private phone line – everyone on Burnett Road, as did most of Chelsea, had party lines.

One luxury was our own professional photographer, who was paid in free room and board in an unheated one-room cabin with no running water at the back of the property.

My dad managed to sneak in phone interviews from his day job at the National Research Council. My mom wrote stories and did cut-and-paste layout on that dining room table on weekends.

I helped out by doing things like opening the bathroom door when my dad was in the middle of developing film in the makeshift darkroom.

After a few issues, my parents contracted neighbour Norm Grant to build an addition whose a second floor bedroom became the newspaper’s first real office.

There, Norm’s wife strong-armed her way into a reporting job, then the editor’s position. Readers may know her: Judy Grant, who would later quit and go on to be mayor of Chelsea not long after telling my dad just where he could go after a particularly heated editorial meeting.

After the wearing off of the appeal of office staff using the one and only bathroom located in the middle of the house, the newspaper rented out its first independent space in the building now known as the “Coeur du Village” in Wakefield.

While maybe not as attractive as its current incarnation, the mini-mall, then owned by the Tommy family, had its own charms. Somewhere in the archives is a photo of our then- office manager, Mireille Labonte, brandishing her winsome smile in our one-room office.

She holds an umbrella in one hand while deftly typing with the other and avoiding downpours from a leaky roof.

I think it was about the mid-80s (it seems no one can really remember) when The Low Down moved next door to 759 Riverside. Fern Leduc, the village dentist for many a year, still owns the building.

It was home to his practice, an insurance office, an apartment upstairs. We took the front office and had use of the fully-equipped, if obsolete, dental office and kitchen at the rear. Our one reporter could sometimes be caught napping in his reclined dentist chair.

When I took over as publisher in 1998, we had expanded and rented out the two other rooms. And until last week, our staff of nine was still crammed into those three tiny rooms – the publisher banished to work in her PJs at home, our general manager sharing her office with the graphic designer, the kitchen sink and all the cleaning supplies.

But, on October 23, The Low Down moved into our own new digs at 815 Riverside. It’s a beautiful old building with hardwood floors, a brick fireplace and lots of character.

Among other things, it’s been home to a gallery, antique store, restaurant, youth centre and some prominent local families.

We’re pretty excited about our new home, it feels like it’s been a long time coming. But we’re still going to make someone work in the kitchen, just for consistency’s sake.

Make sure to come on over and visit us.