Records observes half-century mark
The Penny Record came about as an accident to be a community fixture during a booming period in Bridge City’s history, and has expanded to a second paper with wider Orange County focus that grew in size and circulation.
The 1959-60 era also saw the formation of the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce, and the opening of the first town bank (Bridge City Bank) and Market Basket. All are still there.
In a 2005 interview with Penny Record founder Walter Gaston by then-editor Darryl Brinson, the idea for the paper was formed when a salesman walked into the offices of Bridge City Printing, owned by Gaston.
“We were sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee and talking about this and that,” Gaston recalled. “He started telling us that back East, little local papers were doing real well and making money. The printing business wasn’t making much so just to have something else to do while the commercial printing got going, we started The Penny Record. Next thing we knew it was doing so well we had to drop the printing company. There just wasn’t time for it.”
It has often been said The Record is the only paper in its market where one can read homespun town talk – the things other papers used print but don’t anymore such as residents’ trips to visit relatives; while not forgetting news of interest concerning government, education, tourism and economic development.
Gaston, who died earlier this year, said in 2005 his wife and two daughters “did everything from the janitor work on up,” a tradition that continues today where you might see a staff member tending to cats who hang about.
That office, however, would be the one in Bridge City, still not occupied full-time since Hurricane Ike. While the distribution staff still works in Bridge City about a mile from the editorial quarters, news staff took up post-Ike residence on Henrietta Street in Orange after the Harmon dealership offered some little-used office space.
“Walter could not have imagined when he published 100 Penny Records that covered the trade area – that the paper and Bridge City/Orangefield community would grow to the point that they have,” said Publisher Roy Dunn.
“One thing that hasn’t changed since day one is the acceptance and readership. It has been a public relations voice of both school districts and communities. The slogan ‘Everybody Reads The Record’ is still true today. The Record Newspapers are read by more Orange Countians than all other publications combined. Walter couldn’t have envisioned that. It’s a shame he passed away before the 50th anniversary because he loved The Penny Record.”
Gaston believed The Penny Record was the second “offset type” paper in the area, that being where a lithographic plate makes an inked impression on a rubber blanket which transfers it to paper. Gaston thought the first offset paper here was called the Nederland Review.
“We called it The Penny Record because we would run giveaway ads, like when somebody wanted to give away a dog or something for a penny,” he said. “It was always a free paper, just like it is now, and we started out delivering about 1,000 of them every week. Bridge City wasn’t near as big then as it is now.
“We didn’t get rich, that was for sure – but we did all right.”
In 1987, Gaston sold the publication to Shannon Messer, who “did a little of everything from doing the books to rolling the papers for delivery.”
William Smith, the third publisher, was also the owner of Central Office Supply. But Smith found it hard to divide his time between the paper and the store. In the end, he chose the store.
In 1995 Smith sold his stock in The Penny Record to Roy Dunn, former publisher of the Opportunity Valley News and Community Post. Soon Dunn’s wife Phyllis, and children Karen Gros and Mark Dunn became an integral part of the paper, as they had with other Dunn publications. Very soon after, The County Record debuted.
Over the years, The Record has won numerous awards from the Press Club of Southeast Texas, as well as other organizations dedicated to excellence in journalism.