Representatives of the area's business community yesterday reacted to the news of The Washington Star's closing with deep personal shock and a sense of community loss, but also consistently said they could see no immediate impact on their organizations.
Business leaders said they mourned the loss of the city's oldest paper. A. Jarvis Moody, chairman of American Security Bank, the city's second largest, said he is "bery disappointed" and added that it is "hard to imagine D.C. without The Star."
"This news borders on the unbelievable," Moody said. "It is a very sad development."
Most said the overwhelming bulk of their newspaper advertising budgets went to The Washington Post, with many companies reporting The Post was getting about 80 percent of their advertising expenditures. At the same time, from all segments of the area's business community, the Time Inc. announcement was greeted with shock and disbelief.
"I think it is a tragedy," said John Hechinger, president of Hechinger Co. Inc. "I can't fault Time Inc. for not giving it a tremendous try. I believe that they really wanted to do what everyone in the community wanted -- to maintain Washington as a two-newspaper town.
Hechinger, whose chain of hardware stores is one of the city's heaviest advertisers, said his copany advertised in The Star as much "as our financial capability would permit."
J. Pat Galloway, Washington general manager for Sears Roebuck & Co. and president of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, called the announcement "a blow to the community."
Galloway, citing the loss of more than 1,400 newspaper jobs and those of "hundreds, perhaps thousands who provide services to The Star," said the paper's closing "could mean a diminishment of the quality of life" of the region."We will lose not only the paper's insight and investigative resources, but's its contribution to the regional economy."
Galloway said it would be a "formidable challenge" for the board, the lobbying arm of most of area's large corporations, to find a buyer for the paper. "One of our primary interests is economic development, but this is such a specialized situation. I just don't know" if the board could find a buyer.
Although Hechinger and others praised Time for its efforts to make The Star go, some members of the business community were critical of the direction of the newspaper's management.
Joan Yonkler, senior vice president of Henry J. Kaufman and Associates firm, said advertising in The Post consistently outpulled Star advertising and criticized The Star's management for not doing more to build a unique identity for the newspaper.
"It did not have an identity," said Yonkler, whose firm bills clients for $20 million a year. Yonkler estimated that her firm was placing only about 10 percent of its client's newspaper advertising in The Star.
"This is a big newspaper town and there is no reason a second newspaper couldn't make it," she said. "The Star's audience did not seem that different from The Post's. They were selling the paper to upscale, suburban people and you could reach a whole lot more of them in The Post than in The Star."
Another advertising executive, Bill Harrington, senior vice president of Ketchum, MacLeod & Grove, a large national advertising firm, said his company worries about the lack of advertising competition in a single-newspaper community. "We worry about the lack of a competitive environment," he said.
Likewise, Edwin Hoffman, chairman of Woodward & Lothrop, said the company would reanalyze its advertising mix. "I'd hate to be the captive of a one-newspaper town," Hoffman said.
Alvin Q. Ehrlich, chairman of the Board of Ehrlich Manes & Associates Inc., said his firm was placing only about 20 percent of its advertising in The ystar. The firm's bill clients for more than $21 million a year.
"It's not the end of the world," Ehrlich said. "There are many other places to advertise. The Star was reaching a far smaller audience and there was just no fire there. If there is one reason why The Star died, it might be because nobody really tried."
But John Byrne, chairman of Government Employees Insurance Co., called Star Publisher George Hoyt and the paper's management team "brilliant," although he said they have been "swimming upstream" since taking over the paper in 1978.
Other business representatives mourned the loss of a second voice inthe community. For example, Bob Mondello, director of advertising for Roth's Theaters, while noting that The Star's closing would cut the 27-screen movie chain's budget, said the move "robs us of a second voice. It's nice to have critical voices from two newspapers, since the other critic can be used to counteract one's opinion," he said. "And that's a shame."
Several observers of the business community also raised questions concerning a statement by Star Board Chairman James R. Shepley about the area's "weakening economy" over the last several months, although none would publicly challenge Shepley's assertion for quotation.
"I've got not feeling at all that there's really a weakening economy here," said one area chief executive. "There's so much money in this town and it's on information overload. If any city in this country should be a two-newspaper town, it should be this one."
The response from area business executives was also mixed on whether another company might take over The Star of attempt to build another local newspaper from scratch. "If Time Inc. and George Hoyt couldn't do it, I wonder who could," Byrne said.
Ehrlich, on the other hand, suggested the development of another Washington-based newspaper is inevitable. "Personally, I'd like to see two papers in Washington," he said. "I believe another paper will open here. It's a challenge to an entrepreneur. What the devil, someone can buy the Star plant at a low price."
Sheldon Fantle, president of Peoples Drug Stores Inc., said about 75 percent of his company's newspaper advertising budget went to The Post, but he "firmly believes the strength of the community is as a two-newspaper community." He also said he doubted a new buyer for The Star could be found, although he said The Star is a "choice morsel" for "influencing Congress and the city's government community."