Millions of cuff links isn’t something you usually expect to find stored in the basement of a newspaper. But then, Jeff Schrag, publisher of the Springfield Daily Events, isn’t your typical newspaper businessman.
Starting Jan. 1, Schrag took over as president of Missouri Press Association, succeeding Dennis Warden, publisher of the Gasconade County Republican.
Besides the 135-year-old newspaper and the country’s largest cuff link business, many might know Schrag for another of his business ventures: Mother’s Brewery, which he started in 2011.
While ultimately Schrag’s more recent business ventures have helped him support his primary passion in the newspaper, which he admits is doing just fine on its own, he explains he didn’t always start out with journalistic aspirations.
“I went to Kansas State [University] with the intention of going to law school and being an attorney,” Kansas-native Schrag said. “That went away pretty quickly and what turned me off to that was my uneducated vision of what attorneys actually do is they just research.”
A fan of the history of the Civil War, Schrag said his next idea was to become a historian on one of America’s greatest times of strife.
“I really enjoyed studying the Civil War in high school,” he said. “And I took this Civil War and Reconstruction class [in college], and I thought I was really going to enjoy it. Turns out, the class was 10 percent Civil War and 90 percent Reconstruction; that’s all the professor wanted to talk about.”
It, however, was not at all what Schrag wanted to talk about. Continuing his soul searching, he spent time as a theater major and studied political science before taking a general media class that piqued his interest.
“I thought that was really interesting. If you work at a daily newspaper, you can do all the research you want until 3 o’clock and then you’re done,” Schrag said, smiling. “And if you do more research tomorrow, then it’s got a little different spin to it.
“And I loved the finality of deadlines in journalism, and that was the original thing that drew me to journalism.”
He became a print journalism major, began working for the college newspaper and, as he puts it, has been a “proud journalist ever since.”
“I wrote, I was page editor, I sold advertising, I did page production, I did it all,” Schrag said. “And it was at a meeting of [College Newspaper Business and Advertising Managers] where I stumbled on this notion that at a weekly newspaper, I could do it all.”
Following his graduation, Schrag said he looked at a number of opportunities to purchase a small weekly before he and a business partner (Paul Campbell, now editor and general manager of the Buffalo Reflex) purchased the The Villager Newspaper in Buckner, in eastern Jackson County.
For four years, Schrag said he made a go of making the Buckner newspaper work but admits it was hard having such a small newspaper in such a large county.
“We weren’t the county seat and the school district is so large. It wasn’t easy but we tried,” Schrag said.
In 1993, he made the decision to become editor and publisher of The Blooming Prairie Times in Blooming Prairie, Minn., selling his stake in the Buckner newspaper.
“After four years in Buckner, I was interested in other opportunities,” Schrag said. “[The Blooming Prairie Times] was a real, traditional weekly paper.”
In taking over the Blooming Prairie newspaper, Schrag said he learned a few new things about the newspaper business, including how legal notices are published (differently than in Missouri) in Minnesota.
“I filed to become the legal newspaper for the county, submitted my bid to publish them and I won the contract,” he said. “The daily newspaper in the county seat was not happy with me after that.”
In running the Minnesota newspaper, Schrag purchased it from a bankruptcy trustee after the previous owner filed for bankruptcy over a contract dispute.
“The newspaper itself was doing well, but this contract dispute was putting it at risk,” Schrag said. “That was my first actual success in business in buying, fixing up and selling the newspaper in Minnesota.”
Returning to Missouri
In securing legal advertising for the newspaper in Minnesota, Schrag said it combined some aspects of his initial thoughts of law school with his eventual career in journalism.
“I realized there were newspapers that were really focused on legal notices, that was their main focus,” Schrag said. “That led me to begin researching that part of the newspaper industry, which led me to cold calling around.”\
Schrag said he contacted Ernest and Juanita Young, the former of which had started at the Daily Events in 1945, and he found the couple was interested in retiring when they turned 65.
That was in 1993 and Schrag said he made excuses to keep calling the Youngs every few months, even while looking at newspapers in Kansas City and in other areas.
“All of a sudden, the deal came together,” Schrag said. “I bought the paper May 12, of 1995, that was a Friday, and I published a paper on Monday.”
Since then, Schrag has been a staple of downtown Springfield. His community involvement has included everything from serving as chairman of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors to serving on the board of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.
“This is my home, I’m a downtown guy. The chamber in particular is a really involved organization and that was a big thing for me,” Schrag said.
In addition to being civically involved, Schrag has made attempts to renovate downtown Springfield and bring new life to some of the area’s buildings.
Among those projects has been the current location of the Daily Events, which was his first attempt at fixing up and renovating a downtown building. It is also home to Pioneer Formalwear Jewelry, the nation’s largest distributor of cuff links.
Why cuff links? Schrag said when he was looking for business opportunities, he wanted something business-to-business.
“I wanted to know who my end customer was,” Schrag said. “Our biggest product is the cuff links they give you when you rent a tuxedo, so obviously we hope you break or lose those.”
Another downtown redevelopment was an old Hostess bread factory that now makes a different type of grain-derived product: Mother’s Brewery.
Started in 2011, Schrag said Mother’s was his opportunity to expand his business holdings in a new way that also allowed him to enjoy one of his own favorite indulgences.
“I did some thinking and since I love to drink, I looked at how I would do a brewery,” Schrag said. “It had to be in downtown Springfield, which has really embraced the craft beer culture, and we had to brew beer as good as anyone else.”
The first brew Mother’s released was Sandi Wheat, which Schrag describes as a hoppy wheat and his own personal favorite.
“That was the first beer we ever brewed, and even though we’ve moved on, we still brew a batch just for me, every year,” he said. “It’s one of the few perks of being the boss.”
Working with others.
As for what 2017 will bring, Schrag said he is looking forward to strengthening the relationships of those in Missouri Press he already knows. And, perhaps more importantly, he is looking forward to developing relationships with people he doesn’t know as well as he would like.
“I look forward to meeting folks I haven’t met,” he said. “I also look forward to reminding people that the newspaper business is a strong and viable business.”
As someone who subscribes to three daily newspapers and does not watch television, Schrag said he is confident that people will realize the benefits to getting news from newspapers, rather than other sources.
“I believe newspapers have always done a better job at covering the news and that continues today,” he said. “Even with the absence of the majority of people getting their news from the local newspaper or from a regional newspaper, I’m bullish that people will realize it’s a mistake to get your news from a comedy show in the evening or from social media.”