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by Jamie Moses
The Long and Winding Road
Some people seem to have a clear roadmap for life before they reach the sixth grade: finish school, have a nice wedding, buy a home, have kids, work hard, retire, die and have a nice funeral.
For others the future unfolds in unexpected ways. That’s certainly the case for Newell Nussbaumer. In 1994 Newell was the very likable owner of the Thunder Bay gift shop on Elmwood Ave. The shop carried a lot of southwestern jewelry, clothes, boots, lamps, blankets, etc. They also had cool Buffalo themed things made by local artisans and everything in the store was tasteful and desirable. Newell went to work everyday with Loco, his equally likable yellow lab dog who would follow you around the store as if advising you on what to buy. Newell and Loco and his shop neighbors Ward and Maureen Pinkel of Urban were a major part of Elmwood Avenue’s identity as an emerging and hip, shopping district.
It’s when Ward and Newell started sweeping the sidewalk and pulling flyers off Elmwood Ave. lampposts that the unexpected began.
“I started going down that grassroots community activist road,” said Nussbaumer, “cleaning the sidewalks, putting together street concerts, recruiting other business owners. You get excited for your business and for the direction your little block is going in. It gets contagious. Somebody says ‘good job, love what you’re doing over here.’ And you think yeah, let’s do more.”
Apparently that bit of community service was addictive for Newell and before you could say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Newell Nussbaumer became the Mary Poppins of Buffalo media. As the founder and owner of Buffalo Rising (buffalorising.com) the former shopkeeper now controls one of the most influential media companies in the region. For thousands of local residents the always-good-news Buffalo Rising is far more important than any of the local television stations or the Buffalo News. That’s because Buffalo Rising digs deep into the community where major media can’t reach. Major media gives us weather, sports, murders and fires. You get news of what’s happening in your neighborhood that’s relevant to you from Buffalo Rising.
More importantly, Buffalo Rising clearly is one of the factors in the success of the Elmwood Village. The relentless flood of information going out about the walkability of the neighborhood, the shops, the friendliness, the convenience and the personalities all made the area attractive.
Buffalo Rising Online (BRO) arrived in its current shape over a period of nearly twenty years of radical twists and turns, going from blog, to print magazine, to blogging-website. It’s about to take another radical turn and this one seems to offer the stability that had always been missing. That’s because there is a new partnership team of committed people with the resources and talent to move BRO forward.
“Right now BRO is at the best place it’s ever been,” said Newell. “I’ve grown a lot as I learned the ropes and I’m more comfortable now. I was a retail storeowner and I had to learn the media business by trying different things. Maybe we should do this, maybe we should do that, maybe we should bring this person on board or partner up with that person. I always tried to get involved with people who knew the industry more than I did.”
In the beginning, around 1997, Newell partnered his media ambitions with George Johnson, a Nichols classmate and one of Buffalo’s early Internet gurus. Newell wanted to create a print magazine to tell all the good stories he’d been collecting about what people were doing to improve their neighborhoods, specifically, Elmwood Ave. and Allentown.
“George said ‘well, there’s this thing called the Internet. Instead of spending money on paper why don’t we just put it online?’ That was the direction George wanted to go in,” said Newell, “because he felt that was the future. So we got a little office on Ashland near Bryant St. and started an online blog called One4.com. That lasted about a year. George split and went out to California and that’s when I decided I wanted to do what I originally wanted to do in print.”
The first foray into print came a few years later. It was a 15,000 circulation magazine titled Explore Elmwood/Allentown Village. The magazine was renamed Buffalo Rising and expanded its coverage to include the whole city. Keeping with Newell’s original vision the magazine strongly promoted living, dining and shopping and recreating in the city. George Johnson’s mother started mailing the magazines to George in California.
“One day George walks into my store,” said Newell, “he’s got a bunch of the magazines and he says ‘dude, great job. I can’t believe you actually went back and did it.’ As it happened I had a meeting the next day with Conbrio who wanted to do a website for me. I asked George to come to the meeting. We go to the meeting and of course George takes control and telling them what we should be doing and what we want to do and blah, blah, blah. And on the way back George says ‘dude, I decided to move back to Buffalo. I want to do this with you. This is going to be the future of media and we can do it in Buffalo.’
“So he moved back and I was out taking photos and pounding on doors and he was building this website for about a year. And one day he says ‘okay, we’re going to go live with a blog. We’ll just start to publish information on a daily basis and eventually when the website’s done we’ll drop the blog and go with the magazine on line. So we started doing the blog thing and before we knew it the Buffalo Rising blog thing took off and we never looked back at the website even though he put I don’t know how many hours into building that website. Instead he just designed the skin around the blog and the blog became the website...
“Then George said okay let’s get an office in downtown Buffalo and let’s look for some funding so that we can take this to other cities, because at that point George was convinced that the Buffalo Rising model could be duplicated in other cities. So we solicit funding and Barry Heneghan became the funder and the company was called Hyper Local Media.”
Newell was never that comfortable with duplicating the concept across the country, and with good reason. You would need a Newell Nussbaumer in every city to come on board. Giants like Microsoft, Yahoo and America Online had tried to create so called local sites that were obviously cookie cutter products and they all failed. Sites like BRO are organic and one of a kind. Nevertheless, Barry Heneghan comes on board and throws money down.
“We get new offices,” said Newell, “and we’re paying writers and editors and we buy office equipment and computers and cameras and then what we realized we’d bitten off more than we could chew, George was out doing the road show with the Buffalo Rising model trying to find people in other cities to partner with us but everyone decided they didn’t need our services.
“We were stuck with just Buffalo, which was fine with me, but we had all these expenses now that were dependent on an idea that wasn’t going to happen. We couldn’t keep up. We had to let people go. We started downsizing and we dropped the print version of Buffalo Rising. That was fine with me, too, because although I liked print to begin with once George got me on this online thing early on I was like wow, this is fun, this is cool, it’s immediate. Print was a complete pain in the butt, the printing, the deliveries; it was a complete nightmare. So the magazine was dead. We weren’t producing enough sales. We cut all the employees. So George ended up saying ‘I’m out of here’ and boogied off to NYC. I was left with Barry who never wanted to do any of the operations. He just wanted to make an investment. So my hands were tied. I had to do editorial everyday and didn’t have time to take care of any business side of things.
“Barry put some more money into it just to keep it going, and thank you Barry for keeping it going, and eventually BRO just goes on auto pilot. The print magazine is gone and the online is on autopilot. I’m basically at home publishing every day. That went on for the past few years. Things changed when Mike Hanenel came into the picture.”
Mike Hanenel is a real estate guy from California who had amassed 44 properties in Buffalo and spent a great deal of time here in the past ten years. During that time he became very close friends with Newell and was even the best man and Newell’s wedding. Hanenel just sold his entire portfolio to Sinatra Real Estate.
“During those five or six years Barry Heneghan presided over BRO on autopilot,” said Hanenel, “I started talking to Newell about BRO and hearing what was going on. I was like ‘Newell, why don’t you just buy out Barry?’ Get a new investor partner.”
Eventually, Mike Hanenel became that new investor partner. The new partnership is Newell, Hanenel, a friend of Hanenel’s in California, and George Johnson is back. From Newell’s point of view, nothing could be better.
“Selling my properties was fortuitous,” said Hanenel. “I committed to Buffalo Rising before selling them but I was concerned I bit off more than I could chew because the real estate kept me so busy. Now I’m even more excited about BRO because I’ll have more time to devote to it. The funny thing is, in 1999 I had a website built for me in California when I was in the beauty industry and the guy who built it was George Johnson. When Newell took me over to meet him we both looked at each other and we’re like, ‘I think I know you.’ Newell was saying there’s no way you guys know each other. But we did and we finally figured it out. So this whole thing feels right to me. I love Buffalo and have a lot of good friends here, Newell is my best friend, I’ve worked with George before. It all fits. Plus I want to write a book and Newell suggesting writing a blog because it’s good practice. Some blogs become the book.”
Mike Hanenel has ideas for BRO that are sorely needed.
“If you want your business to change you have to change what you do every day,” said Hanenel. “George has some badass prototypes designed but it’s premature to talk in detail about them. We’re all kind of massaging and working towards when we relaunch the site and we haven’t yet set the date because we really want to make sure it’s right. This is a complete redesign of the website that will be rolled out later this year. Part of that is going to be different methods to service our advertising clients, so besides the traditional banner ads there are other cutting edge technologies that George is bringing to the table.
“The site in my view has been way too stagnant for way too long. Buffalo Rising today is very old school and outdated. Plus we can’t have Newell and his two other writers be the only people who are content producers so we’re definitely planning to expand content production. But unlike the previous Buffalo Rising we’re not going to lead with expenses we’re going to lead with revenue so as we grow organically and slowly we add additional content providers and employees will be offered stock options, as well.
“The reality is that once we launch the new site that’s not the end that’s just the beginning of a regular pattern of upping the site as we move down the road.”blog comments powered by Disqus
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