Gateway Publications: The History
In 1955, Mary Wade Turner received a small inheritance from her father. Instead of socking it away for a rainy day or blowing it on some coveted bauble, this adventuresome Charleston mother decided to use it as seed money to publish a tourist guide to Charleston.
What makes this story even more fascinating is the fact that in 1955 Charleston had virtually no tourism. The city’s face was dingy and disheveled, with many residents fleeing for the newer conveniences of suburbs. There were very few good restaurants, as most Charleston residents preferred to entertain in their homes. And the steamy town virtually shut down in the summer when everyone left for the beaches or the mountains. Yet, it was into this mix that Turner began publishing a weekly tourist guide called Gateway.
An advertisement for a girly club from the Nov. 1967 issue
In the early seventies, Mary Wade Turner knew she was dying of cancer. No longer able to work, she asked her daughter, Mary Dean Richards, to take over Gateway. This was a very difficult decision for Mary Dean as she had a family and interests of her own that did not include publishing. In addition, Mary Dean was concerned about certain aspects of Gateway. Because advertising kept the publication afloat, Mrs. Turner, by necessity, had accepted ads for girly clubs, etc. which Mary Dean found distasteful. After a lengthy meeting with trusted advisors, Richards made the decision to stay with the publication but would raise the bar and refuse to take advertisements that she deemed inappropriate.
A winning combination of good timing, good luck, good taste, and hard work helped raise Gateway’s circulation from 25,000 to 600,000 over the next 25 years. Richards and her longtime managing editor, Kathy Blanchard, quickly learned the ropes of the publishing business as they moved from typeset printing to offset, then to the magic of the digital age. The two women were a winning combination with Richards as the visionary who came up with big ideas and Blanchard as the detail person who implemented them.
Inside the Nov. 1967 issue
Together they produced a publication that measured up to their high standard of excellence. Richards and Blanchard laugh as they recount those early days. The staff was largely made up of mothers of school-age children, so they planned their workday around school hours. The atmosphere was often almost like a house party – with dogs and children in and out. Yet they were all very serious about Gateway and the challenge of making it a success.
As Mary Dean Richards took over the helm of Gateway, exciting events were happening which would play an important role in building Charleston’s tourism. An important one is the annual Spoleto Festival, first held in May of 1977. Several years earlier Countess Alicia Paolozzi, who had a home in Charleston, hosted a visit by the brilliant impresario, Gian Carlo Menotti, who had founded the famed festival in Spoleto, Italy. The ultimate result of the visit was Spoleto USA, which put Charleston in the international spotlight. Called “Sleeping Beauty” by Newsweek, the city soon awakened to the bustle of tourists exploring it. The New York Times and other national media began to feature not just the festival but Charleston’s homes, gardens, and food as well.
Balancing this growth of visitors and new residents alike is a challenge for Charleston’s infrastructure and for its longtime residents. Yet since 1670 when the first visitors arrived on a British ship, the story has repeated itself: You see this beautiful place, fall in love with it, and want to come back. Gateway’s story is also Charleston’s story, thanks to one enterprising woman who recognized this in 1955. In 2000, Strand Media Group acquired Gateway and continues to carry on the vision of providing a first class guide to Charleston.
Certainly, one of the most important factors surrounding the renewed national and international interest in Charleston is its mayor, Joseph P. Riley, Jr., who was first elected in 1975. Riley had a vision for the city, one he referred to as “a rendezvous with our destiny.” He worked tirelessly to meet that destiny by avoiding the sacrifice of historic preservation with his goals of progress.
In addition to Spoleto, an important part of his vision was the revitalization of downtown Charleston, beginning with Charleston Place. A controversial aspect of this plan involved partially demolishing 33 deteriorating historic buildings while preserving and restoring their façades. The resulting eight-story hotel complex and convention center at King, Market and Meeting Streets changed the face of Charleston and made it the hub of tourist-related activity around the old Market. It also resulted in the gentrification of upper King and Meeting Streets with an overall revitalization of the entire downtown area.