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A new era for the paper

The Leader office makes a new home in Solon
The new office of the North Liberty Leader and Solon Economist, located at 206 E. Main St. in Solon. The transition was scheduled Wednesday, July 18, moving a short stroll west from the papers’ long-time office at 102 N. Market St. This comes almost a year after being purchased by Woodward Communications, Inc., with the intent to provide a better environment for both employee-owners and customers. (photo by Cale Stelken)

SOLON– This summer, the North Liberty Leader set out for a new horizon. Fortunately, all it took was a short stroll down Main Street.
The office of the Leader and Solon Economist is moving, although not far. The transition was scheduled Wednesday, July 18, uprooting the newpapers from their long-time office at 102 N. Market St. and heading west to 206 E. Main St. This occurs just a few months shy of a year following the company’s purchase by Woodward Communications, Inc., and moves the papers even closer to the heart of downtown Solon to bolster a century-old relationship with the community.
“Woodward had the opportunity to sell the building, which prompted us to think about what’s the best space for our customers and our employees, and recognizing that our current space, which has served us and the papers for a long, long time, just isn’t as suitable for today’s working and customer standards,” explained Jake Krob, group publisher for West Branch Communications.
To stay put, Krob said, would have required a significant investment in the aging and cramped property on Market Street (Highway 1), while the recent updates and retention of historical features of the 206 E. Main St. building made it an obvious choice to provide a new home to the Leader.
“We were so fortunate to be able to be in the heart of Solon, still, right on Main Street, in a beautiful, historic building,” he added.
The two-story brick building originally served as one of the town’s first banks, with a history tracing back to the late 19th century. Solon’s original bank was in a small wooden building where David Randall operated a hardware and grocery store. When Randall’s health began to fail, George and J. S. Ulch purchased the store. The Ulch brothers took over the bank after Randall’s death, and in 1897, they built what is now the Leader and Economist’s office, just east of the stone livery that now hosts weddings and receptions as Palmer House Stable.
Today, the former Main Street bank is owned by Mark Pattison, who put significant effort in updating it for his Buck Creek Hops office. The space was also previously home to Corridor Connection Realty among other businesses. Its interior bears industrial and antique qualities with its brick walls, cast iron floor grate and tall doorway, a fitting atmosphere for one of the community’s longest-standing businesses.
“I’m glad we’re moving to a building with a long history in the community,” Leader General Manager Doug Lindner said. “We have a lot of faithful subscribers who are used to us being on the corner of Highway 1 and Main Street. Thankfully, our new office is just a stone’s throw away.”
Staff will begin operating in the new location Thursday, July 19, with preparations for Solon Beef Days taking place just outside the front door.
The transition is just one of many experienced by the newspapers, as well as the Market Street building, over several decades. Built around the turn of the century, the former Leader office is one of three buildings in Solon bearing an Italianate false façade. Known as the Fiala Building, it was originally a meat market, the vestiges of which are still visible, such as the square door above the entrance where ice was slid into the cooler. This room later served as a darkroom/restroom for many years. The Fiala Building also served as a one-table pool room and an efficiency apartment.
“When I first came in the early 1980s, there were some remnants of the apartment, including an old stove in the closet, which I guess was the kitchen,” noted former owner and publisher Brian Fleck.
Fleck purchased the papers at the end of 1982. At the time, publication took place at the Fiala Building, along with the Solon Community Credit Union, which eventually merged with the University of Iowa Community Credit Union (UICCU). Marietta Beuter was the office manager for both Solon Credit Union and the newspapers, with a big roll top desk by the side entrance. Veronica Bittner served as typist, turning out nearly 100 words a minute of error-free text on a manual typewriter, according to Fleck.
“We all smoked cigarettes back then, and the wall showed it,” he remarked.
Fleck moved the office out of the Market Street building in the mid ‘80s, to the current site of Red Vespa, with the Leader in the back, Jim Martinek in the middle and Krall Barta Insurance in the front.
Around 1990, Dave Jones bought the Market Street building and remodeled it to be the newspaper office. Fleck requested lots of desk space and lots of electrical outlets, which proved valuable as the digital age swept the print industry. Jones also custom built a darkroom projector stand in the darkroom/restroom.
“When Dave remodeled the building for me, he took off the wall paper to reveal outlines of where they hung the various knives and saws from the butcher shop on the wall,” Fleck recalled. “There was a soft spot in the floor on the northeast corner. I was told it was where they kept the Coolerator in the days it had a pool table.”
Fleck purchased the building in the 1990s, before selling the papers and building in 2000 to Doug and Lori Lindner. Jake Krob purchased the papers and building from the Lindners in 2010 before joining Woodward Communications in fall 2017.
For a number of years in the 2000s and 2010s, the Leader had its own dedicated space, separate from its Solon counterpart, at 10 Cherry Ct. in North Liberty, before merging back with the Solon headquarters a few years ago.
The latest office move has led to a trip down memory lane for its longtime staff and an excavation of sorts through the old office, which housed numerous stacks of bound newspapers dating as far back as the late 19th century. These include Solon Economist, North Liberty Leader and its previous incarnations Clear Creek Leader and Oxford Leader.
“Honestly, it’s been kind of tough saying goodbye to a lot of this stuff,” Lindner said. “But I can’t hang on to a proposed site plan from 2004 forever.”
Vintage editions of the Economist will soon be archived at the history room of the new Solon Community Center, while editions of the Leader will be kept at the Main Street office for the time being.
In an ever-evolving world of round-the-clock media, the transition into a new office perhaps more than anything symbolizes the perseverance of the Leader and Economist– which have upheld a committed approach to traditional community coverage into the 21st century– while offering an even stronger presence in Solon.