Plant City Courier Reporter Dave Nicholson shares memories from working in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.
One of the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World’s oldest businesses closed its doors for the final time this month: the Plant City Courier. On May 3, Tampa Bay Times purchased The Tampa Tribune, which owned the Courier, and shut both operations down.
The Courier, a Plant City legacy, didn’t miss an issue in 132 years.
Those of us who worked at the Courier can look back with pride. The paper was not what we did for a living, it's what we lived to do.
Our work now at an end, we now cheer on our former competitor, the Plant City Times & Observer, as it becomes the sole torch bearer of Plant City news.
Generations of Plant City residents grew up reading the Courier. Its history spanned the city's founding, both world wars, the Great Depression and countless milestones.
Nancy McLean, 82, read the paper for decades and worked as a receptionist for a dozen years before her retirement.
“I was always one of those people who read the Courier cover to cover,” McLean said. “I looked forward to every issue. I will miss it.”
Former employee Dick Elston, 83, literally put his blood into the paper — as a youngster, he lost a finger that got caught in printing machinery.
He took a job in the press room in 1944 when he was 12.
After the accident, he underwent medical treatment, but a few weeks later returned to the job. He worked a total of six years under then-owners A.P. and Kathryn Cooke.
He went to college, served in the United States Army then came home to take over his father's insurance business, along the way serving as a city commissioner and mayor.
Elston looks fondly on his days at the paper.
“It was respected around town, and that's what means the most,” Elston said. “When Mr. Cooke put something in the paper, you could believe it. You knew it was true. You knew it wasn't just gossip.”
Employees in later years had their own behind-the-scenes stories to tell.
Before cell phones, we communicated with handheld radios that shared a frequency with Disney World. On a clear day, we would know what was going on at Cinderella's Castle. I don't know if Disney employees could hear us.
Those of us working for the paper saw the first cracks in its foundation a decade ago. Employees who left weren't replaced, and by 2012, the full-time staff at 101 N. Wheeler St. was pared down to two: a reporter and advertising sales rep.
A year ago, the Courier's red boxes disappeared from Plant City streets and the size of the paper shrank as owners reined in distribution costs.
Along the way, a scrappy newspaper, the Plant City Times & Observer, came to town, and for the first time, the Courier couldn't force a competitor from its domain.
I found out the end had come as I returned from a chaotic scene where a train sliced through a truck. I was getting ready to write the story when I learned we had new owners. I was free to go home.
I feel blessed to have been there until the last day. I was closing in on retirement, and I had a job long after journalists around the country were laid off.
While I’m certainly sad, I saw the end coming a long time ago, so I prepared myself emotionally and financially. I’m looking forward to spending time with my grandchildren in California as I weigh my options.
I appreciate the support of so many people in Plant City. Many of you have become my friends.
I’m fortunate that I ended up in such a welcoming and loving community. It’s been fun and I have a lot of happy memories.
Dave Nicholson worked as an editor and reporter in Plant City for 23 years, including for the Plant City Courier and The Tampa Tribune.