On Oct. 7, 1954, A Singular Newspaper Made its Debut
Celebrating The Georgetowner's 57th Anniversary
Ami Stewart, who worked as a sales representative for the Washington Star, told the Randolph sisters at Little Caledonia, a famed home goods store on Wisconsin Avenue, of her plans to begin a community newspaper. They encouraged her, and the Georgetowner was born on the fabric table of that shop, publishing its Volume 1, Number 1, on Oct. 7, 1954.
The newspaper grew with its news and profiles of a quieter time and homespun ads of retail along Wisconsin Avenue and M Street. It is a delight to look at the archives and interesting to see the story, written before the 1960 election season, on an N Street resident who was planning a run for president: John F. Kennedy.
Stewart ran the Georgetowner until the mid-1970s when she moved to a nursing home. Her assistant editor since the late '60s had been David Roffman, another transplant from the Midwest to D.C., who helped her along with others like Richard McCooey of 1789 Restaurant who sent meals to her home.
The newspaper office was at the corner of 28th and M Streets above Chi Chi's Poodle Parlor (the space is now Das Ethiopian Restaurant, the former Zed's). The Georgetowner moved from there to what was Crumpet's in 1200 block of Wisconsin Avenue and then across the street above Swensen's Ice Cream. Over the years, the newspaper has occupied space in Hamilton Court (31st Street) and Georgetown Court (Prospect Street). That's called getting to know your neighborhood.
Roffman took over upon Stewart's passing and gave the newspaper his own flare, especially during the go-go 1980s. He swept the streets with an elephant vac, getting his picture in a national publication, and called for Georgetown to secede from D.C. more than once. The crew of writers and sales reps included his brother Randy Roffman. Then arriving from California, writer Gary Tischler remains with the paper and is considered central to its heart and soul.
Here is how Tischler described his old friend, Roffman, who was given the lifetime achievement award in 2010 by the Georgetown Business Association, where he was once its president:
"Small community newspapers are tricky businesses — they’re usually free, they depend on the kindness of local businesses to provide advertising revenue, they reflect and report on and are reflective of the community they serve. With all due respect to other such publications in this city, no other paper is so associated with place than the Georgetowner. And it’s fair to say that Roffman, when he owned and published the paper, reflected the community in all of its facets.
"He wasn’t just a publisher, and his efforts weren’t only about stories, scoops, ads, deadlines and headlines. He was the village’s biggest cheerleader and booster, acting as if Georgetown were a particular lovely, elegant lady who needed to be helped across the street. He sometimes acted as if she were a party girl, to be sure, but that was part of the times. Roffman would do stuff — he hosted parties, fund-raisers, publicized charity events (at good old, reliable Nathans), promoted festivals (the annual Francis Scott Key day), institutions (the Georgetown Senior Center was a particular favorite) and events (Volta Park Day). He got involved — he went to ANC Meetings and CAG meetings, not just to report on them, but to speak at them and make himself heard. . . . In the pages of Roffman’s Georgetowner, the neighborhood became full bodied — it was the sleepy village and the noisy night time, it was contemporary and historic all at once. It was a classy place, but it was also democratic."
Today, owner and publisher Sonya Bernhardt, also with Midwest connections, has entered her 13th year at the helm of the newspaper which is now part of the Georgetown Media Group. She publishes the Georgetowner and the Downtowner, runs the business side, directs the group's presence on the web and social media and staff and interns. Her passions include the community as well as promotion of small and local businesses. She is also an avid fundraiser for various causes including research for cancer cures. With the newspaper, she is committed to the Georgetown House Tour, the Senior Center, Living in Pink, Volta Park Day and Francis Scott Key Park, to name a few local charities.
Here is her take on the media product: "Our publication reflects the Georgetown lifestyle, focusing on the arts, history, real estate, education, dining, health, fashion and philanthropy. With a print circulation of 40,000, the Georgetowner is mailed to all Georgetown residents and businesses and has a thriving website. The newspapers’ distribution covers parts of D.C., Maryland and Virginia."
The endlessly energetic Bernhardt has put her mark on the newspaper whose “influence far exceeds its size," and taken it firmly into the 21st century. A portrait of founder Ami Stewart hangs above her office mantle. And, yes, the office is on Potomac Street, next to Dean & Deluca; it's been there for the last 10 years.