The PennySaver is coming back nearly a year to the day it was shuttered (2024)

It came down to the wire.

Million-dollar, custom-made machines that once clutched newly printed PennySavers and shuffled in coupon fliers were about to be reduced to molten metal, destined to be recycled.

Longtime PennySaver employee Elaine Buckley and a former colleague, Michael Whisner, had tracked down the machinery while on a mission to bring the iconic circular back from the dead.

In January, Buckley learned a handful of Irvine investors wanted to bring back the weekly publication. Unfamiliar with publishing, they asked for her help. Buckley knew the ins and outs of the PennySaver. She was employee No. 54 when she joined the mailer in 1979.

Buckley, who worked as PennySaver’s vice president of outside sales, was one of nearly 700 employees who lost their jobs in May when the company shuttered without notice.

With funding from investors, Buckley, Whisner and a handful of other former PennySaver employees got busy. Piece by piece, they’ve been reassembling what once was a familiar and favorite booklet that arrived in mailboxes weekly across the region.

In three months, Buckley and her crew licensed the rights to the PennySaver name, logo and the PennySaverUSA.com web domain. The team tracked down those metal inserting machines used at the former Brea plant, paying just pennies on the dollar for them.

Nearly a year to the day the publication disappeared, Buckley and her team will reissue the PennySaver.

“It’s a blessing for the reader, the advertiser and the employees who lost their jobs,” said Buckley, who is the new chief executive of the re-imagined publication.

A WELCOME RETURN

The first issue of the reborn PennySaver will be distributed May 18, a week that holds significance to those who were working at the 54-year-old publication the day it closed.

On May 22, 2015, employees at the PennySaver were told to pack their belongings. The company ceased publication with no formal notice to its staff. Their final paychecks bounced.

Buckley and Whisner were among the managers who unknowingly handed out those bad checks. After the PennySaver shut down, a slew of lawsuits would be filed, and within days the company filed for bankruptcy protection.

The mailer – beloved for its garage sale ads, handyman services, personals, rental listings and business coupons – has a long history in Orange County. It began as an outlet for local businesses in 1962, founded in Huntington Beach by Bob DeMarco. In 1973, he sold it to Harte-Hanks, a Texas publishing company. The new owner moved the offices to Brea in 1981 and continued expanding throughout California and into Florida. It became the largest direct-mail shopping publication in the country.

Word of its closure dismayed loyal fans who remembered finding a pet or even their future spouses through its pages.

“It’s just always been there,” Bobbie Guice told the Register in May. She and her husband flipped through the PennySaver’s pages each week looking for deals. “We’ve bought cars through it; we’ve sold cars. We found people to do work on our house.”

The closure last year hit business owners like Armen Manougian hard. Since opening his repair shop, Allstar Auto Center, in 2001, he advertised regularly in the PennySaver, taking out full-page ads that drew in a significant number of his customers. When the magazine abruptly closed, he felt it instantly.

“My sales dropped 30 percent, even though I continued to use more expensive advertising,” said the Inland Empire business owner.

Within days of the PennySaver’s closure, Manougian received calls from the owners of the stereo shop down the street, the local pizza place and a dentist, all asking where he would advertise next.

He believes they called him because of his prominent and regular ads in the circular.

“That’s why it’s important to have advertisem*nt for local mom-and-pop places, to keep people flowing in,” he said. “It’s like breaking up with your girlfriend. You love her when she’s gone. You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.”

TWICE BITTEN

When the investors approached Buckley in January, she was initially reluctant to invest her time in another mailer. She and other former PennySaver employees had moved to a similar venture, the Shopper Saver, which they say made big promises that fell short.

The Shopper Saver had a target audience across the Southland, but it was underfunded and failed to distribute to the planned coverage areas. When it foundered, employees again were left jobless.

Buckley said she is confident the quartet of investors backing the new PennySaver are committed to making this version work.

So far, she’s assembled a team of 15, hiring former colleagues in either full-time or contract roles as graphic artists, advertising sales representatives and an administrator. Employees work remotely, and the magazine will eventually open “touchdown stations,” where employees can restock their office supplies.

“We’re doing it the smart way this time,” she said.

Among the employees joining the new incarnation of the PennySaver is LuAnn Benton, whom Buckley first hired in 1981 at the California Shopper before it merged with the PennySaver.

Leaving the magazine after it closed was a painful experience for Benton because of the relationships she built with colleagues. She is hopeful this PennySaver will have that same family atmosphere.

“When I started there, I was really young. I hadn’t graduated from college. I met my husband there,” she said. “My whole life surrounded around the PennySaver.

“They treated you really well, and you didn’t leave because it was such a good job. That’s what we want. We want to create a really good culture.”

Employee Scott Hirschbein found work elsewhere. After working at the PennySaver for 25 years, most recently as its senior national account executive, Hirschbein found work at Quad/Graphics, a printing company with facilities in Huntington Beach and elsewhere in Southern California.

Buckley and her team are partnering with Quad/Graphics to print the new PennySaver, which will be the same size as the old circular but printed on a heavier stock paper with intermittent color pages.

The booklet will be distributed in the Inland Empire, initially reaching 300,000 businesses and homes in communities including Temecula Valley, Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto and Colton.

It will then expand to the north Orange County communities of Brea and Fullerton by 2017, Buckley said. Her goal is to have a circulation of 1.6 million by that time.

“We started where we know we had the highest readership,” Buckley said.

Buckley and her investors declined to comment on how much they are spending to revive the publication. The investors, who work in finance, also asked to remain anonymous for this article.

Lourdes Castillo, who worked on the inserting machines for 25 years in the PennySaver’s Mira Loma facility, will again work on the custom machines, now in rented space at a Santa Ana facility.

“It feels exciting,” Castillo said. “I have faith that this will work.”

And Manougian plans to be an early advertiser.

“I’m begging for it,” he said. “When it went under, I was helpless. For the cost effectiveness of the advertisem*nt, it’s awesome. … It pays for itself.”

Contact the writer: lwilliams@ocregister.com, 714-796-2286

The PennySaver is coming back nearly a year to the day it was shuttered (2024)

FAQs

What happened to the PennySaver newspaper? ›

The PennySaver was a publication distributed in California. Formerly owned by Harte-Hanks, it and its website were sold to OpenGate Capital in 2013. The publication went out of business in May 2015. OpenGate was subsequently sued for not providing proper notice before firing hundreds of employees.

Is PennySaver USA legit? ›

PennySaver USA, LLC, a privately-owned company, has been a leader in hyperlocal marketing and advertising for over 50 years. The company offers full-service marketing and advertising solutions across all print and digital channels via its local publications and digital services unit to thousands of businesses.

When did PennySaver begin? ›

Bob DeMarco started the first PennySaver in Huntington Beach in 1962 as an advertising vehicle for local businesses.

Who is PennySaver USA? ›

Hyperlocal Marketing Leader PennySaver USA has established itself as a leader in hyperlocal marketing and advertising, offering full-service solutions across print and digital platforms. This presents a sales opportunity to target businesses looking to reach a localized audience effectively.

Who owns Pennysavers? ›

Businessman Lloye Warner, right, owner of Penny Savers Supermarkets, receives the Tobago Medal of Honour Gold from Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis during the Tobago Day Awards was held at the Shaw Park Complex, on Saturday.

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Adpost is another free classified ads website that's similar to Craigslist.

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