The Island Sand Paper is going out of business. The July 10 issue of the Sand Paper will be the last one published.
Like other businesses on Fort Myers Beach, the Island Sand Paper has been hit hard by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with many other Island businesses, the Sand Paper went nearly two months with zero income, and since with limited income, while fixed expenses like rent, website costs, utilities, insurance and software licenses continued.
The formula for economic survival in these circumstances, as all Island businesses are well aware, is to dig into savings to keep the business running until the tides of economic recovery turn in our favor. We can’t do that this time.
Publisher Bob Layfield explained, “It’s all about time and numbers. We are looking at, best case scenario, many months before our advertisers are able to resume their usual marketing efforts. Our advertiser base is skewed heavily toward the hospitality industry. With ongoing limits to seating and reduced visitor numbers, our restaurant advertisers are, understandably, doing everything they can to limit their expenses. When we combine our local recovery period from the COVID-19 pandemic slowdown, with the regular slowdown of the summer season, the next few months will generate additional financial losses for the newspaper.
“While we have faith that Fort Myers Beach will recover from this economic disaster, just as it has from past hurricanes, oil spill scares and such, we have concluded that we are not in a position to wait it out this time.”
Part of the reason is personal. “We are facing some family challenges that we need to prioritize,” Layfield said. “For the second time in a year, a close family member in the Midwest is suffering some serious health challenges and we need to be free to be there for our family. Family comes first, always. We had also been approaching the point of considering retirement ourselves. We took a hard look at all of these factors, the economic and the personal and concluded that it was time for us to leave the Sand Paper.”
The July 10, 2020 issue will be the last Sand Paper, if there is no sale pending. “We are open to selling the Sand Paper,” he added. “I’m happy to talk to anyone who is interested in continuing the paper and serving the community. If there’s one thing we are absolutely sure of, it’s the beach community’s support for the Sand Paper, so it’s possible that there are people who might be interested in continuing the Sand Paper legacy.”
“This is not a clever ploy to sell the newspaper,” Layfield emphasized. “Our last issue will be July 10. But we thought it only fair to let our community know in advance in case someone is interested in taking the reins of the paper. We believe as firmly as ever in the importance of a local newspaper.”
If anyone is interested in acquiring the Island Sand Paper, they should send a Letter of Interest to email@example.com by noon Friday, June 19. Serious inquiries will be offered a non-disclosure agreement and instructions on how to obtain all the pertinent financial information regarding the business. The Sand Paper’s name and all intellectual property will be sold to a buyer or protected after the paper closes.
The irony of this decision is that just before we all fell off this cliff together, the Sand Paper had the best three-months ever for both sales and profits between December 2019 and February 2020. The speed with which our Island economy shut down still amazes us.
By Islanders, For Islanders
The Island Sand Paper began in 2001 as a weekly community newspaper. From the first issue on February 9, 2001, the newspaper has focused exclusively on the Fort Myers Beach community, eschewing stories and event coverage much beyond the Island’s two bridges.
Local musicians, artists and personal interest stories have made up the bulk of 20 years of print news, and with the advent of online news and social media, those remain the most popular stories.
The Sand Paper has focused on what interests local residents, including local government – Town Council, Library and Fire Boards. In the process, a wide array of visitors have come to know and love Fort Myers Beach. Readers are invested in our community and repeatedly show that they care what happens here, whether they are Islanders for two weeks a year or fifty-two weeks.
Small community newspapers like the Sand Paper have held their popularity with local readers. People are interested in what is happening in their community, right down the street. They want to know what their local government is doing and other hyper-local news. There are many sources for statewide and national news, but no other news source provides the breadth or depth of local news like a local newspaper can.
We purchased the Sand Paper in May 2010. Without a journalism degree between us or any history in the publication world, though Missy was once the Assistant Editor of her high school paper, we leaned on our lifetime of knowledge of small towns and a Midwestern work ethic as we discovered that there is no tutorial on how to run a community paper. We recognized the opportunity to make the newspaper our own from the beginning, and ran with it.
We tried to reflect the rich sense of community that Fort Myers Beach embraces and share the kinds of stories that contribute to that. We wrote stories about fundraisers, not after they were held, but far enough in advance to help ticket sales, which in turn benefitted local charities. When our local school had a need, we wrote about it and our generous readers always responded and answered that need.
The Sand Paper has published short obituaries for locals at no cost under our watch because we think that’s what a community newspaper should do. Lost and found classified ads have also run free. No matter how boring or long, a Sand Paper writer sat in on every council meeting and nearly all Fire and Library board meetings. Lately COVID-19 precautions have meant that was done remotely, but we were there because we promised our readers that if they couldn’t attend meetings, we would.
Before we were newspaper people, Bob spent ten years as a business broker. Prior to that, he spent over 20 years in the wholesale food and beverage business, working primarily with the hospitality industry.
After 25 years as a physical therapist and athletic trainer, Missy served as a childhood cancer advocate after our son’s leukemia diagnosis. As an advocate, she took highly technical medical jargon and made it understandable for the average family. She still serves as a childhood cancer research data reviewer.
We plan to continue to live on Fort Myers Beach and enjoy the community that has been so good to us over the past ten years. As always, this story contains the facts; our opinion on this turn of events can be found on the Editorial Page.
Bob & Missy Layfield