Tony Atchison has quietly built himself quite the media empire in Midtown Mobile, even though he doesn’t own any of the businesses.
The affable owner of Atchison Home also owns the former Smith’s Bakery building at the corner of Hallett and Dauphin Streets, and by the end of next week the big brick building and small grey building across Hallett will be home to eight businesses involved in various forms of media.
As Lagniappe moves offices this week across the hall, advertising and marketing firm Hummingbird Ideas will take over our current spot. They’ll join two video production firms, a radio station, another marketing company and a film production firm in the Bakery Building.
In the grey building across Hallett Street, Access Magazine has also moved into what we’re tentatively calling “Media Row” until one of the clever marketing folks can come up with something better. I’m feeling something playing off of baking, Johnny Gwin. Get to work on it!
Fortunately Red & White will be moving in downstairs (in the former True Midtown Kitchen space) soon to supply all these creative types – including the architects rounding out the total roster of businesses – with inspiration via the vino.
Of the new kids on the block, Hummingbird has been around longer – starting out right next door to Lagniappe in the Tower at Ryan Park. So we’ve been neighbors before and they even still talk to us.
For Access Magazine the move represents both a physical relocation and an arrival of sorts. Publisher Hayley Hill says after three-and-a-half years, the local style magazine aimed (mostly) at female readers, is ready to take its place among the locally owned media who have survived the often-deadly first couple of years.
“We’ve got our claws in,” Hill said. “I feel like the first two-to-three years people were afraid of us because so many magazines fail. I don’t think people are scared of us failing anymore.”
Access’ success and growth is a testament to Hill and her staff’s tenaciousness and ability to gauge the Mobile market, as well as to adapt as they’ve gone along. Anyone who has started a media company in Mobile or elsewhere knows it takes advertisers, readers and customers a long time to believe you’ll be around, and even after they do it takes an even longer time for them to change buying habits.
Hill says her new office is reminiscent of the type of space she worked in as an editor for Us Weekly magazine, in which all staff members add their perspective on an editorial piece.
“It’s an open pit,” she said. “We can all talk about what we’re doing. We always say ‘Why use words when you can use pictures.’”
Hill and staff have been working out of her home for the past year and the move to Hallett is indicative of the magazine’s financial improvements, as readers have taken to its unique way of approaching covering the Bay area.
“We’re getting more into our readers’ heads. We know they are really into football and the beach, but that they also like real hero stories – cancer survivors, the Biggest Losers. We’ve become a hub connecting local women,” Hill says.
To her editorial content is the most important part of what Access does, and she and her staff spend hours researching so they can produce pieces that give their readers information they want on new products and services being offered locally.
Hill says the dwindling of the Press-Register as a news source in the area has opened room for Access to handle some of the features and subjects the daily once covered.
“With the disappearance of the newspaper, stories need to be told. (Lagniappe) is picking up some of the heat, we’re picking up some of the heat,” she said. “The newspaper turned its back on a community that has so much to give. This is such a social community.”
And while dailies nationwide have been heralding the end of print media for several years now, Hill is one who believes there is still a vibrant desire for newspapers and magazines, especially in Mobile.
“Our growth shows people still like to see themselves in print. It’s a very validating thing. They’re excited to be in a magazine,” she said.
One area in which Access has seen some real growth is among its male readers, Hill said. This year’s swimsuit edition turned a lot of men’s heads and led to a 20 percent increase in subscriptions from the less fair sex. Other issues, like last year’s football guide, which gathered national attention for featuring University of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron’s mother, Dee Dee Bonner, and then-girlfriend Katherine Webb.
“The football issue was really big for us. I was proud for us to be able to do that,” Hill said.
She says Access now averages about 60,000 readers per month, but that on some special issues, readership can swell to 200,000. As a totally home-grown publication, Hill says they still have a long way to go, but feels the new office fits their vision and dreams for the company.
“We’re excited to be on the media block. We want to be with all the movers and shakers,” she said.