Naming Dan’s Papers, a Local Origin Story

Dan's Papers sign from the early days
Dan’s Papers sign from the early days

Ever wonder how Dan’s Papers got its name?

Interestingly, it was not originally named for a newspaper. It was the name given for the place where a series of newspapers was published.

I’ll explain.

I published the first edition of my newspaper in Montauk on July 1, 1960. I was a college student, and my dad owned White’s Drug Store in Montauk. The prior summer I had worked for my dad. Now, I thought, coming home for the summer, it would be a great idea to publish a free summer newspaper in that town. I’d worked on my college newspaper. Montauk did not have a newspaper. I would give the town one. I’d be outside in the sunshine instead of cooped up in the store.

The paper, called The Montauk Pioneer, was a big success from the get-go. For the next five years, I lived with my parents, used my bedroom as an office and published an ever more prospering Pioneer in Montauk every summer. During that time, I finished college and grad school.

Now it was time to be a grown-up. As the Pioneer was a success, but not quite enough to live on, I thought I’d open a separate summer newspaper in East Hampton. I’d call it The East Hampton Summer Sun.

I’d also move to East Hampton. For an office, I rented the front half of a 19th-century carriage house on Gay Road facing the Montauk Highway just beyond the triangle of grass called the Sheep Fold. (The post office is on Gay Road now. The carriage house has been moved and is now attached to the back of the Amaden Gay Real Estate office as an addition.) And I bought a small house south of the highway in East Hampton (for $9,500) and moved out of my parents’ house. It was a big move for me. And my parents gave me their blessing.

I sold all the ads myself. Wrote all the stories in the two papers myself. And delivered the paper myself from the back of a red van I bought for that purpose.

The first inkling there was trouble was the problem of how to make the red van say “Montauk Pioneer” on its side when it was in Montauk and “East Hampton Summer Sun” on its side when I was delivering in East Hampton. I solved this by painting two wooden panels that could each be affixed to the opposite side windows of the van. One side of each panel said Montauk Pioneer and the other side the East Hampton Summer Sun. The panels were removable and flippable, so I could pull over and change the name depending on where I was.

But to serve the two towns, I also had to have a small staff in that carriage house in East Hampton. Ron Ziel, a railroad buff who lived in Bridgehampton, became the back-of-the-book editor. Cecil Hoge from Southampton became a writer and production person. And Rameshwar Das of Amagansett became our photographer.

We also had a secretary named Marge Miller. She sat at a desk by the front door. And she answered the phone when it rang. Very quickly, she saw a problem.

“How am I supposed to answer the phone?” she asked. “Montauk Pioneer or East Hampton Summer Sun?”

I had no answer to this question. Everybody stopped working to listen to the answer.

I turned to ask everybody else. “Anybody have an idea?”

Nobody had an answer.

So I reframed the question. “What we need here,” I said, “is an overarching name for the two newspapers. Like we have Cheerios, but there is a company name for the people who make Cheerios and other food stuff. Like Kraft Foods. Or General Foods. The food itself is not named that.”

Still nobody spoke.

I continued. “How about ‘Summer Paper Publications?’ What do you think?”

“I’d say that?” Miller said.

“Yes, it has a ring to it. Summer-Paper-Public-Cations.”

“That’s so stupid,” somebody said.

“It’s like ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,’” I said. “It would be fun to hear Marge answer the phone with that.”

“Dumb,” said Ziel.

“Here’s another idea,” I said. “Call it ‘Ink Inc.’ We’d get incorporated. It would work.”

“Like ‘Oink Oink?’ Like the pig?”

“Somebody help me here,” I said, giving up.

It was Ziel who came up with the right answer.

“Call it ‘Dan’s Papers,’ he said. It’s like you go to Coney Island and get Nathan’s Hots. Like Dan’s Hots. But it’s the newspapers.”

The first Dan's Papers van
The first Dan’s Papers van

So that’s what we called it. Accompanying this article is a photograph of the small sign I made which I stuck in the ground out front of the carriage house facing the street. It read “Dan’s Papers.”

Well, during the next few years we had calls from people who thought we sold stationery. Or wallpaper. We’d straighten them out.

Pretty soon everybody liked the name. In tiny print, below the big letters reading “Montauk Pioneer” or “East Hampton Summer Sun,” there was the slogan “One of Dan’s Papers.”

In the next few years, we began publishing year-round and we expanded the operation to include the Southampton Summer Day, The Sag Harbor Pilot, The Hampton Beach (west of the canal) and The North Fork Free Enterprise. All these papers had their own editorial pages together with stories that were common to all the towns. It worked fine. Until I noticed something odd. Everybody was calling all these newspapers “Dan’s Papers.”

For a while, I thought that was fine too. Or was it? One day, on Labor Day weekend in 1975, I held up a copy of The East Hampton Summer Sun, with the name in giant letters on the top of the front page and I asked a friend standing in front of me to tell me what the name of the newspaper was.

“Dan’s Papers,” he said.

And so, the following week, I changed everything to say Dan’s Papers. And it’s been that way since then.

It’s like at breakfast you ask somebody to pass the Kellogg’s rather than pass the Rice Krispies.

Well, it could happen.

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