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Wednesday, February 22,2012

Vaarwel, Meijer - for now

by BERL SCHWARTZ

At a Paczki party Tuesday morning, state Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, asked me what she could do to help keep City Pulse in Meijer stores.

“Write a letter,” I told her.

Or e-mail Meijer. Or call the store. Or go see a store manager. Elsewhere in this issue — the last one scheduled for delivery to Meijer — is a flier giving you the particulars on how to do any of those things.

Meijer reached out to me late Friday to suggest the magazine rack as at least a temporary solution, but that will accommodate just a fraction of the 3,000-plus papers readers pick up in Meijer each week. Moreover, it will be far less visible and accessible. Nor has anything been negotiated at this point, so until further notice, this remains the last issue of City Pulse at Meijer.

That’s because Meijer has decided to eliminate the red free publication racks — on which City Pulse pays for shelf space — from the lobbies of its 199 stories across five states, starting March 1.

 “All free publication racks at all of our stores are managed by a third-party company,” Meijer’s VP for public affairs, Stacie Behler, wrote me in an email last week. “Meijer has made a corporate decision to remove all of the racks in order to maintain a clean, consistent look in the front of our stores, which was not currently the case in most of our stores. Our decision is no reflection on City Pulse or any other specific publication and was not based upon labor issues.”

The last reference was to information City Pulse published last week from a very well placed source with connections at Meijer who said that it was “purely an issue of labor costs for them. Even though most publications are handled by a distributor, people pick them up, leave them around the store, throw them on the floor, etc.  Each time an employee has to pick it up, throw it away or touch it, that adds to their costs.”

If that’s the reason, which Meijer denies, it doesn’t wash in this market: All the store directors told me they had “no problem” with free publications, as one put it.

Whatever the motivation, those racks are going to be gone by next week. The issue is how do we get City Pulse back into Meijer stores, where a growing number of readers pick up their copies. We had over 1,000 papers picked up at the south Lansing location alone this past week.

City Pulse’s greatest growth has come from being in Meijer the last three years. And that means we are reaching not just more people but a far broader audience. Meijer serves all strata of society in Lansing. Yes, this is about circulation, which helps us sell advertising. But first and foremost it’s about serving the community with content that is local, carefully reported and often exclusive.

Moreover, City Pulse carries virtually all public notices for the cities of Lansing and East Lansing and most of those from Ingham County government. We’ll still carry them, but far fewer readers are going to see them as a result of Meijer’s decision.

What’s needed now is more feedback from you — again, look for the flier on how to help and also sign our online petition at www.lansingcitypulse.com.

Whatever happens, I want to thank everyone who is helping — readers and public officials alike — including Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing and Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann for their letters to Meijer and the Lansing City Council for the resolution it passed Monday asking Meijer to reconsider and urging other local governments to do the same.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment to me has been the unwillingness of the Michigan Press Association, of which City Pulse is a member, to help on this issue. Its board wouldn’t even assist me in trying to find out why Meijer was doing this, let alone take up my cause.

I understand many member newspapers, especially the dailies, benefit greatly from Meijer advertising and some might even see free papers like mine as competition, but come on, folks. If Meijer were threatening to throw out paid circulation papers, there would be editorials about the impingement on the free flow of information.

And that is an issue. Maybe not legally — Meijer appears to have every right to do this. But Meijer, through its free publication racks, has become an important hub of community information.

Let them know you want to keep it that way.

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