| VailDaily.com

Vail Daily turns 40: Co-founder Jim Pavelich looks back on publishing his first paper

Vail Daily co-founder Jim Pavelich, pictured here in the 1990s, put in his two cents in Eagle County when he co-founded the Vail Daily in 1981.
Special to the Daily

Jim Pavelich was working in a restaurant when the opportunity presented itself to start the Vail Daily.

The first issue came out 40 years ago, on June 15, 1981.

Today, Pavelich still lives in Eagle County, and still works in both the restaurant and newspaper businesses. He owns the Northside Kitchen in Avon, where he’ll perform most jobs that don’t involve cooking, and he’s co-owner of the Palo Alto Daily Post in California, where he takes on the duties that don’t involve spelling.

And while he’ll be the first to admit he’s a lousy speller and even worse as a chef, he continues to find success in both businesses. The Palo Alto Daily Post focuses heavily on its print edition, going against the industrywide drift toward digital news.

“I like to tell people: ‘In Palo Alto, they’re not as comfortable with technology, and they still read print,’” Pavelich said with a laugh on Monday. “People say ‘Wait, Palo Alto — isn’t that the Silicon Valley?'”

The Vail Daily was a success from the start, Pavelich said.

“We started with $3,000 in tip money, and we never went through it,” he said.

After growing up in California and graduating college from the University of Colorado, Pavelich co-founded the Vail Daily with Jon Van Housen, a reporter. Pavelich said they had the idea for the Vail Daily after watching another daily one-sheet, the Vail Daily Mail, start up and fizzle out.

An article from the June 3, 1981, edition of the Vail Trail newspaper.
Special to the Daily

The Vail area’s major media outlet at the time was the weekly Vail Trail, which, in June 1981, published a story about the Vail Daily’s intention to publish.

From the June 3, 1981, edition of the Vail Trail: “The Vail Daily, not to be confused with the late and not-much-lamented Vail Daily Mail, is the project of Jim Pavelich and Jon Van Housen of Vail. Though their predecessor, the Vail Daily Mail, lasted only a year, Pavelich and Van Housen think a small daily can survive, and even prosper, in Vail.”

Pavelich said he and Van Housen had been thinking about starting up a daily paper in Vail for about a year, but the Vail Daily Mail had prevented them from doing so.

“The Daily Mail was started by a guy named Fran Brady. He had been around for a long time,” Pavelich said on Monday. “Fran Brady would sell ads to bars and restaurants; Jon (Van Housen) was a bartender at the Watch Hill Oyster Club, and Fran Brady was a customer there, and Jon wrote a couple columns for Fran Brady.”

When Van Housen received word that the Vail Daily Mail was ceasing publication, he and Pavelich began preparing to start their paper out of a condo in the Sandstone neighborhood.

“We didn’t want to start in the middle of the ski season, so we waited until June 15,” Pavelich said.

While the Vail Trail described the Vail Daily Mail as not much lamented, Pavelich said people continue to confuse it with the Vail Daily to this day.

“Fran Brady’s paper was a single sheet like ours, but every day it was a different color,” Pavelich said. “And people still say to me, ‘I remember when your paper was green and yellow and pink.'”

The June 15, 1981, edition of the Vail Daily launched with the Town Talk section that is still used today. In it, Van Housen writes that the paper was coming to Vail readers “not as a result of millions of dollars and worldwide consulting work, but chutzpa, fear and a lot of begging.”

The first edition of the Vail Daily, printed on June 15, 1981.
Daily file photo

By 1984, Pavelich had bought out Van Housen and moved the Vail Daily out of the condo in the Sandstone neighborhood, which he still owns. In the winter of 1989-1990, Pavelich started the Summit Daily news, his second newspaper.

Vail Daily staff photo, 1985.
Vail Daily file photo

Pavelich sold the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily in 1993, and for a couple of years, he thought he might have been out of the newspaper business altogether.

But opportunity knocked when Pavelich met Dave Price, the person Pavelich describes as the best newspaperman currently alive in the U.S. Price worked for the Denver Post in the early ’80s and was the founding editor of the daily edition of the then-weekly Aspen Times in 1988. Hunter S. Thompson mentioned Price in his book “1990 book Gonzo Papers, Vol. 3: Songs of the Doomed: More Notes on the Death of the American Dream.”

When Pavelich was presented with an opportunity to work with Price on a startup paper in Palo Alto in 1995, “I said I never want to do it again,” he said on Monday. “But then I thought about it and I said, ‘Don’t do it without me.'”

The Vail Daily would go on to acquire the same paper which covered its arrival, the Vail Trail, in 2004, and that same year Pavelich and Price, after selling their first Palo Alto paper, started a second Palo Alto daily, which still thrives.

The Monday, June 14, edition of Jim Pavelich and Dave Price’s Palo Alto Daily News.
Special to the Daily

These days, aside from his name in the masthead, the most connection to Pavelich you’ll see in the Vail Daily is in the ads for his restaurants, the Northside Kitchen and Benderz Burgers on the northside of Interstate 70 in Avon and Southside Benderz, located on Avon Road.

“If you run a good ad in print, saying you’re giving away free salsa, you will get people coming through the door all day asking for the free salsa,” Pavelich said.

And while he jokes that he will not relish reading the Vail Daily’s 40th anniversary coverage on the paper’s website Monday evening before the print edition hits the streets on the actual anniversary on Tuesday, he’s happy to see the paper still show up in newspaper boxes across the community every morning.

“It’s interesting to see what works and what hasn’t,” he said. “And I’ve seen both.”

Peterson: Never a dull moment

As journalists, we’re trained to report the news, not become part of it.

The story should never be about us. But what about when that day’s news is actually about us? You know, like today, when the Vail Daily officially turns 40.

Talk about agonizing editorial decisions.

Forgive us if we didn’t get a little bit excited when a string of small grass fires broke out Monday along the interstate to provide some real news for today’s edition so it wasn’t just all about us.

Then again, you only turn 40 once, and any legacy news operation hitting that milestone is cause for celebration. That’s especially true when you consider that nearly 2,000 newspapers around the country — about one of out every five — have closed since 2004.

Those numbers have only risen during the coronavirus pandemic at a time when Americans need trusted, local news sources more than ever.

So, as we hit the big 4-0, everyone in our newsroom is thankful to be doing the important work of delivering reliable reporting to you, our readers, and being smack in the middle of a community conversation going on 40 years.

We’d be lying, though, if we said it’s all serious work.

Are you kidding?

We certainly grind at the Vail Daily, but if there’s one string that runs through this whole thing, it’s all the fun we’ve had while doing the important work of covering the news.

That’s been true from the beginning when Jim Pavelich and Jon Van Housen launched their tiny one-sheet with $3,000 in tip money back in 1981 and never looked back.

My favorite meetings with staffers and community members are always the ones that happen on a chairlift while sneaking in some turns — or out and about around the valley, sipping something cold while soaking up some rays.

And, trust us, whenever we do take ourselves too seriously, this valley always puts things in perspective. These mountains, they’ll humble you.

It’s true: A newspaper is a daily miracle.

Despite power outages, blizzards, interstate closures, wildfires and a plethora of technical mishaps, the Vail Daily has managed to deliver the day’s news in its print edition for 40 straight years. That’s a streak of 14,611 days.

Despite some of the dysfunction that persists, despite our best attempts to corral it, we’re nothing if not dependable.

And while the work of a journalist has changed with the advent of the internet and the 24-7 news cycle, the basic principles of this job remain the same.

When people stop saying, “I read about in the Vail Daily,” then we’ll know we’re in trouble.

We’re here for all the news you need — whether it’s an alert on your phone about a road closure or an avalanche, or it’s a deeply reported investigative series that you read within the pages of that day’s print edition. And, now, you can also get your daily dose of news, weather, ski conditions and valley happenings from “Vail Daily Live,” our new streaming morning show that’s just about as exciting as the Daily launching 40 years ago.

Just know that we do it all for you, our loyal readers, who are always there to tell us when we get it right and when we can do better.

It’s an honor and a pleasure to edit the Vail Daily on its 40th birthday, and those of us who work in our building in EagleVail can’t wait to celebrate with you throughout the year as we tell some of the stories behind the big stories of the last four decades and continue to report the stories that matter to you, our readers.

Life begins at 40, or so we’ve heard, and we’re just getting warmed up.

Nate Peterson is the editor of the Vail Daily. Email him at npeterson@vaildaily.com.