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Free Press Editor Accuses Ukrop's of Racial Bias

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Free Press Editor Accuses Ukrop's of Racial Bias There's no expiration date on the feud between the editor and publisher of the Richmond Free Press, Ray Boone, and Ukrop's Super Markets.

Boone published a full-page advertisement in his newspaper last week that blasts the grocery chain and its alleged disregard for the freedom of speech.

The spat -- at least its public airing -- began more than 18 months ago when Ukrop's changed a store policy and hired DistribuTech, a third-party distributor, to manage the free-publication racks available at the front of its stores.

Because DistribuTech stocks papers only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the change would have left the Free Press, which publishes on Thursdays, getting to readers a day late -- and, according to Boone, a dollar short. So he opted out.

"I see it as a newspaper doing what it should do," Boone says of his ad, "which is AŸ.A.?sªA,Ý stand up against abuse of the First Amendment." The ad charges that Ukrop's is disrespectful to the black community and favors the "widely despised Richmond Times-Dispatch in majority-black Richmond."

Distributing a day late, by Boone's telling, would truly be the worst thing in the world: "We come out on Thursday and we have made a pledge to our readers in Richmond that we would come out every Thursday morning," Boone says. "Can you imagine? Ukrop may deliver meat a day late, or bakery items a day late, but does that make sense? A newspaper is very perishable."

Robert Ukrop, president and chief executive of Ukrop's, did not return calls for comment. James Ukrop, no longer involved in daily operations of the grocery chain, says he's uncertain why Boone is on the attack now, deferring questions to his brother.

James Ukrop says he recently received a letter from Boone congratulating his family's grocery chain for carrying a new weekly newspaper, Urban Views, which is aimed at black readers. (Style Weekly is also distributed at Ukrop's.)

Boone says the distribution issue is only one part of a far more complex ethical battle, adding that Robert Ukrop has on various occasions made veiled threats about pulling advertising in efforts to censor what appears in the Free Press.

"I'm not dealing in hyperbole when I make these statements," Boone says. "[Robert Ukrop] knows that. He will not intimidate me. He's at the wrong door. He needs to revisit the door at the Times-Dispatch, a place that can be intimidated."

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