In the beginning … building a better business newspaper

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Twenty years ago, April 1, 1989, two brash men in their early 30s with no newspaper experience launched a new publication — the Colorado Springs Business Journal.

As they remember it, Roger Powell asked Chuck Sheldon if he wanted to help start a business publication in Colorado Springs.

“And he didn’t even hesitate, he just said yes, in a second,” Powell said. “So, we decided to do it.”

The two were “fans” of the Denver Business Journal, called the Rocky Mountain Business News at the time. They felt strongly that Colorado Springs could support a business publication — and they didn’t think they would face much competition.

So they rented office space at the DeGraff building, above Old Chicago restaurant on Tejon Street, downtown.

“It was tiny, about 500 square feet,” Sheldon said. “But we were a lean, mean machine in those days — really a shoestring staff. Those first few months, they were tough — we weren’t sure if we could do this.”

And that uncertainty — the challenge of starting a new business — brings back fond memories for the two men, both of whom are now nearing 50.

“For me, the challenge was great fun,” Sheldon said. “We didn’t know if we were going to be able to pull it off, but we did.”

The two split the newspaper responsibilities — Sheldon was in charge of the editorial process while Powell handled advertising — and they hired a couple of other people as well.

The first 90 days were the toughest, waiting for advertisers to pay for ads that had already run, and trying to drum up new business for the newspaper. But the community responded well to the new publication.

“We had heard a lot of complaints about The Gazette,” Sheldon said. “They didn’t have much of a business section, and they didn’t have much positive business news. We thought we could provide something that was missing. And we both had contacts in the community, had been in the Springs for a long time. People sent us their news, and we were up and running quickly.”

They remember beating the bushes for advertisers and making deals to get the paper printed.

“We had some good advertisers very early on,” Powell said. “And they made it possible for us to continue. We were only twice a month at first, so we had more time to get advertising.”

So using a staff of freelance writers and a skeleton office crew, the two launched the Colorado Springs Business Journal, and within four years, they moved from twice a month to weekly.

They also moved up the street to the current location, 31 E. Platte Ave. And their staff grew from five to 15 during those four years.

“We started out in office spaces on the second floor, but the business kept growing,” Powell said. “So when the entire third floor became available, we moved into it.”

And as they settled into their roles as newspaper moguls, the two started thinking about expansion.

“We traveled a lot, looking for cities that could use business publications,” Powell said. “The business model was working, so we just copied it in other markets.”

They started the Pueblo Business Journal and the Madison Business Journal in Wisconsin.

So, when Dolan Media Group came calling — 10 years after they started the business — both men felt like it was the right time to hand the reins of the publications to someone else.

“The timing was right,” Powell said. “Just like when we started, the timing seemed to be right to do something else.”

“We’d taken it about as far as we could, the two of us,” Sheldon said. “We were on a plateau, and just didn’t have the resources — human resources, financial resources — to take it to the next level. We knew it could be better — more than what it was — but we didn’t see a way to do it ourselves.”

So, they left to do other ventures. Powell still lives in Colorado Springs, and operates a landscaping business. Sheldon moved to Denver, where he dabbles in real estate, occasionally does construction projects and manages a few investments.

Powell still reads the Business Journal — and said some things about the newspaper business never change.

“I always loved scooping The Gazette,” he said. “We would print on Wednesday and everyone would get it in the mail on Friday. We were always on pins and needles until we came out — hoping The Gazette wouldn’t have our story. It was great when the weekly could scoop the big daily paper — and it happened pretty often.”

But the Business Journal has changed, he said, just as the city itself has changed.

“We were this small, local publication, and we had that look, that feel,” he said. “Now, the Business Journal is bigger, looks at bigger issues, has a national feel. It looks like the national papers. But the city has grown too, and is a national player. It seems like the Business Journal grew up with the city.”