Pelican Press & Pelican Marketplace Change Hands

Observer Group, Inc., purchases sister papers from JCPG

The Observer Group, Inc., publisher of the Observer weekly newspapers and the Gulf Coast Business Review, has closed on the purchase of the Pelican Press and Pelican Press Marketplace.

The Observer Group acquired the 40-year-old Pelican Press and its sister publication from Journal Community Publishing Group, Inc., the Milwaukee, Wis.-based publisher of more than 30 community newspapers and shoppers in Wisconsin, Sarasota and Jacksonville. Journal Community Publishing Group is a division of Journal Communications, Inc., a Milwaukee-based, publicly-traded diversified media company.

Hugh McGarry, general manager of Journal Community Publishing Group, said the company sold the Pelican Press and Pelican Press Marketplace because of a strategic decision to concentrate on its cluster of newspapers in Wisconsin.

"Our geographic footprint was not big enough to provide the reach" in the Sarasota market, McGarry said. "The Observer Group's acquisition is great for the market.

"It has been a great property for Journal Communications with a great team in place," McGarry said of the Pelican Press.

Journal Communications acquired the Pelican Press in June 1998 from Sarasota entrepreneur John Davidson. Davidson founded the Pelican Press in 1971 on Siesta Key as a way to help promote his startup drug store. A pharmacist by training, Davidson went on to grow his pharmacy and drug store business to three stores in Sarasota and Siesta Key while also publishing the weekly Pelican Press.

For the first 20 years of its existence, the Pelican Press primarily served Siesta Key. But over the past two decades, the Pelican broadened its coverage and focused much of its editorial coverage on Sarasota city and county governments and downtown Sarasota.

"We're thrilled to become the next stewards of the Pelican," said Matt Walsh, CEO of The Observer Group, Inc. "Although we have been direct competitors for the past seven years in Sarasota and on Siesta Key, the Pelican is a great fit for our company. We focus on the same thing - helping local businesses with their advertising and providing the Sarasota market with hyper-local community news and information.

"We're excited about joining our two staffs into a common mission and publishing great newspapers and Web sites," Walsh said.

A 1975 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Walsh started his career as a reporter/copy editor at the Topeka Capital-Journal in Kansas.

In 1995 he purchased the Longboat Key Observer from Ralph and Claire Hunter. In 1997 he purchased the East County Observer, and in 2001 he purchased the Tampa Bay Review. He started the Sarasota Observer in 2005 and the Palm Coast Observer in 2010.

Walsh is an active member of the Florida Press Association and is the incoming president.

With the acquisition of the Pelican Press and its sister shopper, The Observer Group increases to seven the number of newspapers the company publishes. It also publishes the Longboat Observer, Sarasota Observer, East County Observer and Gulf Coast Business Review out of its downtown Sarasota offices. In addition, it owns and publishes the Palm Coast Observer on the East Coast of Florida.

Altogether, The Observer Group newspapers, including the Pelican Press and Pelican Press Marketplace, distribute 124,500 newspapers weekly.


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