Ocala Style celebrates its 20th anniversary
This month as you flip through the pages of this issue of Ocala Style—whether you do so with the print version or digital version online—you’re holding a bit of history in your hands.
Our February 2019 issue marks the 20th anniversary of Ocala Style Magazine.
The old adage “time flies” is perhaps never more appropriate than in the publishing business. It doesn’t seem possible that two decades have passed since the inaugural issue of the magazine hit the streets.
Some of our readers and advertisers have been with the magazine since the beginning. For those who have connected with us more recently, we hope you’ll enjoy this look back at the history behind Ocala Style and how we got to where we are today.
First Things First
There wouldn’t have been an Ocala Style if not for Kathy Johnson’s dedication, hard work and out-of-the-box thinking, yet Style wasn’t her first venture into the world of publishing.
In the mid-1980s, Kathy and her husband, Dean, opened a chain of retail gift businesses. With the goal of bringing more customers to their Ocala location, they lobbied to bring the first Select-a-Seat (later known as Ticketmaster) sales location to Marion County.
As a marketing strategy, this move was incredibly successful, but it also created an unexpected issue: non-stop questions every day from customers wanting to know which events were on sale and when.
In order to answer those questions (and thereby free up time to actually sell store merchandise), Kathy had the idea of creating a Ticketmaster On-Sale Guide, which became known as Entertainment Express magazine. This publication, which was distributed free of charge, listed hundreds of events, including sports, concerts and performing arts, along with seating charts of all the major event venues in North and Central Florida.
“It became an instant hit, with hundreds of mini-booklets being picked up daily, but in order to cover the costs of design and printing, we began selling advertisements in the magazine,” recalls Kathy, who took on the bulk of this project, as Dean was immersed in running the retail locations.
By the early 1990s, the Gulf War commenced and a severe downturn in the economy led to the closing of the Johnsons’ Ocala retail location. With her typical make-lemonade-from-lemons approach to life, Kathy used this time of transition to adapt Entertainment Express from a Ticketmaster-only publication into a community event magazine that was distributed throughout the city and thus keep it going on its own power.
“I think my lack of experience in the publishing field and, conversely, my desperate need to succeed is what gave me confidence and kept pushing me forward,” says Kathy of those early Entertainment Express years.
“I had no choice but to keep my overhead costs down and do most of the work myself. For a few years, I worked out of my house, but even with a small staff, we worked from modest accommodations.”
I clearly remember the spring afternoon in 1993 when I met with Kathy for the first time to discuss writing for her magazine. I’d been freelancing for over five years; my first children’s book had been published in 1990 and a second had just come out. I still held down a part-time, non-writing job but was hoping the increase in writing projects would allow me to drop that.
My first articles for Entertainment Express appeared in the May 1993 issue. In September of that year, I took a leap of faith, gave up my part-time job and made writing my permanent career. By the November 1993 issue, I moved into the position of editor. I will always be grateful for the work with Kathy and Entertainment Express that helped make my decision.
All along, Kathy was driven by the firm belief that if she could produce a magazine that gave the readership real value and something to be proud of, they would support it by supporting the advertisers. In turn, our advertisers would support the magazine.
“I put virtually every dime I could into producing more magazines,” she says. “Eventually, we were distributing over 30,000 copies monthly throughout the entire city. I never would have been able to do that if it wasn’t for Ocala’s wonderful business owners who graciously allowed me to put those magazines on their counters, coffee tables and magazine racks. Our readership grew enormously, and with it came results for our advertisers, and they continued to support me in turn. It really has been a three-way win.”
After producing a monthly edition of Entertainment Express for more than a decade, Kathy realized there was a need for something different. She believed our area was ripe for a city magazine with a focus on Ocala’s style—not style as in fashion but rather the residents, culture, history and accomplishments that give our town and county its unique style—or flavor, if you will.
“I felt we deserved a publication that accurately portrayed our community: real people, real stories, the real Ocala,” says Kathy.
What she’d been able to accomplish with Entertainment Express was just the starting point. With Ocala Style, options abounded. We could focus not just on entertainment, but on the many attributes that make Ocala/Marion County such a great place to live. Ocala Style would be a lifestyle magazine—and that’s exactly what it became: a publication highlighting the very best of our area.
When the inaugural issue came out in the spring of 1999, it included features on homes, local builders and interior designers, horse farms and equine events, travel, dining, gardening, recipes, wine and social scene photos.
That first year, Ocala Style was published quarterly, but in 2000, the magazine became a monthly, and the old workhorse Entertainment Express was retired.
Growth & Recognition
Over the past 20 years, Style has established itself as it initially debuted: “Ocala’s Premier Lifestyle Magazine.”
The publication has won numerous Charlie Awards in multiple categories from the Florida Magazine Association, the largest magazine association in the country.
“It was an honor to be named Publisher of the Year by the Florida Magazine Association,” says Kathy, who
was also recognized as the Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce’s 2005 Ocala/Marion County Woman of the Year. Ocala Style was also named Communicator of the Year 2005-2006.
Although she greatly appreciates such business recognition, Kathy hasn’t made that her focus. In fact, for the past several years, she declined to even submit entries to the annual magazine awards competition. Her belief was that the magazine’s true value was not predicated on awards won or recognition bestowed by industry peers but rather on the satisfaction of its readership and the success of its advertisers.
She realized that satisfaction and success were inexorably linked, and that as long as Ocala Style could deliver these, the magazine would grow and evolve over time. The fact that a “free” magazine has survived
and thrived all these years without subscriptions or a newsstand price is testament to its quality.
Advertising pays the bills, but readers pick up a magazine because of content. Since the very first issue, Style has made it a point to enlighten, educate and encourage its readers. We’ve done that with a wealth of stories, profiles and features on many diverse topics. From elite athletes to business innovators, talented artists, musicians and craftsmen, accomplished young people and inspiring seniors, we’ve covered these and more.
As a writer, it’s been both challenging and rewarding to tackle so many of these stories. I love the fact that I learn something with every story I write and appreciate the opportunity to share that with our readers.
It’s been reaffirming to work with a company that celebrates a spirit of giving back to the community.
“For over 20 years, we have supported well-deserving, non-profit organizations with ads and articles,” notes Kathy. “In 2002, we held our first Diamond Gala at Golden Ocala. Over the course of five years, that event alone raised over $200,000, which was first given to the Appleton Museum and then to Sheltering Arms for abused children.”
Evolution & Change
Last year, with the idea of devoting more time to family and personal pursuits in her next chapter of life, Kathy made the tough decision to sell the magazine.
She points out that a highlight of the business has been working with a talented and loyal team, several of whom have been with her for 26 years.
“We have been blessed to have many loyal advertisers as well, some of which have supported us since the beginning,” notes Kathy.
In fall 2018, new owner and publisher Jennifer Hunt Murty took the reins of Ocala Style, eager to make her mark yet also continue the tradition of a publication that reflects the community she calls home.
Jennifer has brought a new look to the magazine and shared some of her personal passions, but many of the same topics featured in the first issues continue to be found in the pages of Ocala Style: food,
home, travel, equine events and local activities.
One reality that became obvious through the past 20 years is that our area has an abundance of people who make a real difference. Featuring these remarkable individuals in the magazine’s pages has added serious substance to the publication and serves as an ongoing reminder that this place we call home is blessed not just with natural beauty, social and economic opportunities but with people who are the real heart and soul of Ocala/Marion County.