Words and Pictures
The Oneonta News Company
by Karyl Sage
Before television and social media were the norm, people relied on newspapers and radio for news
In New Berlin in 1929, six weeks after the beginning of the Great Depression, Ralph Sage slipped and fell, losing a leg under the wheels of a train on which he was the conductor. The family was then without income. In the following years, work was hard to find, but after receiving a prosthesis he was again able to walk and drive and he found work in delivering newspapers. In the early 1930s the family moved to Norwich. There were two daily papers in Norwich, a morning and an evening paper and the train brought in newspapers from other communities, such as Binghamton and Utica. He had a rural route and delivered handbills (advertisements now found as inserts in newspapers) for the Acme and Victory Markets in Norwich. When his sons, Charles and Robert were old enough they, too, had paper routes.
A.M. Pierson of Binghamton, a distributor for newspapers and magazines, had wholesalers throughout the area. In the 1940s, Pierson offered Mr. Sage the management of the Oneonta business. The family then relocated to Oneonta. That move resulted in a twenty year, seven day a week job for all members of the family. Both sons finished high school, served in the Armed Forces and had jobs of their own, as well as working with their father and mother in the paper business. When son Robert married, his wife also joined the company.
They operated a wholesale newspaper business, The Oneonta News Company, first located at 75 Main Street and then at 350 Main Street, where the Oneonta Post Office now stands. On street side was a large apartment house with six apartments and behind that was a building that included an office, a large workroom lined with metal top tables, and an inside loading area for trucks. There were other buildings that served as storage and garages for equipment.
The dealership handled all the newspapers that came into Oneonta except the Daily Star and the Binghamton Press. Among the major papers distributed were the New York Times, Herald Tribune, New York Mirror, New York News, Albany Times Union, Philadelphia Inquirer, Knickerbocker News, Wall Street Journal, Binghamton Sun, Syracuse Herald, National Observer, Il-Progresso Italo-Americano (an Italian language daily newspaper published in New York City), Scranton News and the Racing News. Newspaper were shipped to Albany by train. A distributor from Albany delivered them to Oneonta, arriving between 5 and 6 AM on weekdays.
Ralph Sage next to an Oneonta News Company delivery truck.
Week Day Deliveries
Daily papers from NYC were shipped by train to the Albany train station. A driver from Albany, off loaded the papers, made a stop at the Albany Times Union and the Knickerbocker News, and bundled the papers for deliveries along Route 7 from Quaker Street to Oneonta. Along with the daily papers, inserts for the Sunday papers (advertisements, comic sheets, magazine section, social section) were included in the delivery. During the week, Sage had completed labels with the order for each wholesale costumer. When the dailies arrived, the paper bundles were then opened, positioned around the room on long metal top tables and brought to the counting and tying table. Sage would count out the amount and tie a new bundle and attach the label. The newspapers were then delivered to stores on Main, River, and Chestnut Streets. Deliveries were also made to Homer Folks Hospital and the State University’s Old Main building by car.
On Saturday afternoon a family member or a local driver would drive to Albany, stopping along the way to leave the inserts for the Sunday issue and to collect the bills from the dealers along Route 7, with the last stop at Duanesburg. The driver would then go to the Albany train yard. Railcars loaded with newspapers from NYC would be offloaded by wholesalers from the surrounding areas. The driver would then go to the Albany Times Union and the Knickerbocker News for their editions, and prepare the orders to distribute to the dealers along Route 7 on the way to Oneonta. The remainder of the load was for Oneonta distribution. Early Sunday morning a truck from Binghamton also brought newspapers.
Once in Oneonta, the newspapers were placed on a designated metal topped table (one area for each major paper) and family members and delivery boys would put the papers together. The New York Times table and The New York Herald Tribune table always had a running game to see which would finish first. Approximately 1,000 copies of the New York Times and 750 copies of the New York Herald Tribune were sold in Oneonta. The Sunday New York News had the largest readership with about 1250 copies with the New York Mirror close behind with about 800 copies.
They were then loaded on a truck and delivered throughout the city. The first stop was the Bishop Drug Store about in the center of the block between Elm Street and Ford Avenue. The largest dealer, the Palace Cigar store, was next. That was on the corner of Ford Avenue and Main Street, where the Community Bank is today. Two dealers, McPhail’s Pharmacy and the City Drug Store, were in the block between Dietz and Chestnut Streets. The papers for those businesses filled the truck. The truck then returned to the building to be loaded with papers for the “loop run”. The route continued to lower Main Street to Drago’s and then Bruno’s Market, down River Street to Rossi’s Grocery, Zummo’s Grocery, Van Buren’s Market, Friendly Grocery, over the old railroad bridge to Oneida Street to the Duke Restaurant, back to Chestnut Street to The West End Pharmacy (now Rite-Aid), Vern’s Market at the corner of Chestnut and Murdock Avenue, and to Ken’s Grocery on the corner of Kearney and Chestnut Streets. Another truck was loaded for the “country run” which began in West Oneonta with a stop at the home of the delivery boy. It continued to Laurens, Mt. Vision, over the hill by the way of the Arnold Lake Road, to Milford, and then to Portlandville and a stop at the store in Colliersville.
Over the years, over a hundred Oneonta boys worked there. Familiar Oneonta family names included Bagnardi, Rohanavech, SIlvernail, Weideman, Courtney, and Pidgeon along with many others. They put the newspapers together and had paper routes delivering house-to-house. The Catholic Church was one block from the News Company building (at the corner of Main and Grand Street) and a boy would load a wagon, and pull it to the front of the church as each mass was over. It was the most profitable delivery route and seniority determined who would get that job. The delivery boys learned the lessons of work and following rules under the guidance of Ella Mae Sage. She was a task master with a huge heart. Law enforcement would often bring a boy to her to ask that she give the boy a job and mentor him. She never turned one away and there are many success stories of how that encouragement and trust changed their lives. The paper boys always enjoyed a festive holiday party each year. After her husband’s death in 1956 she continued the company for another 10 years, with the help of her two sons and daughter-in-law.
Newspapers that did not sell were returned to the office. The heading (newspaper name and date) was torn from the paper and returned to the publisher for credit. The remaining part of the paper was bundled and taken to the junk yard. Local veterinarians would also use the newspaper for bedding for animals. The bookkeeping, collecting of bills, bank deposits and writing of checks was done by a family member. A newspaper worker works when others are sleeping, every day of the year, regardless of the weather and there was always the element of time. “A dead newspaper does not sell.”
Magazines and Paperback Books
The company also distributed magazines and paperback books to dealers in Oneonta and Cooperstown.
Mrs. Sage retired in 1966 when the property was purchased for the new Post Office as the first phase of Urban Renewal was beginning. She passed away at the age of 95. Deliveries were then handled out of the A. M. Pierson Office in Binghamton.
Ella Mae and Ralph Sage.
©2017, Greater Oneonta Historical Society. All rights reserved. Please report any issues with this website to our webmaster. This page last updated 5/25/2017.