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Ukrop's Muzzles Black Voice, Publisher Charges

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Strained relationship cleanup on aisle 9!

In an effort to tidy up the free-publications racks it maintains at the front of its 28 locations, Ukrop's Super Markets has outsourced management of the racks to Norcross, Ga.-based publications vendor DistribuTech.

The shift requires that free local papers (including Style Weekly and its various niche publications) pay DistribuTech, rather than their own vendors, to deliver and manage their products in Ukrop's stores.

The move has angered Raymond H. Boone, owner of the black-oriented Richmond Free Press. In a series of full-page ads and editorials in his paper, Boone attacks Ukrop's, saying it's losing its community focus and excluding black businesses.

Among his complaints is that DistribuTech's delivery dates — Monday, Wednesday and Friday — mean his paper, which publishes on Thursdays, would reach some readers a day late.

"We are committed to respecting our readers and giving them superior service with civic virtue," Boone says. "We cannot insult our readers by distributing our paper a day late."

DistribuTech and Ukrop's officials say they attempted to negotiate with Boone. "To my knowledge, the Richmond Free Press is not returning some of the phone calls that have been placed by DistribuTech," Ukrop's spokeswoman Mandy Burnette said last week.

Sam Dodson, a regional director for DistribuTech, which has distributed the Free Press to other local retailers in the past, says he's tried reaching out to Boone to no avail. "Whether a publication chooses to do business with us or not," he says, "that's strictly up to them."

Boone also complains that using DistribuTech significantly increases his distribution costs.

Both DistribuTech and Ukrop's say that Boone can place his papers in the stores on Thursdays if he makes his own delivery arrangements.

"But they would have us to pay double," Boone says. "They would have us to pay for [our previous distributor] to deliver on Thursday and then pay again to DistribuTech for the space."

The argument may come down to a test of wills. Boone says Ukrop's has become a "whites-only distribution center in terms of newspapers."

The retailer says Boone is hardly the only minority voice in town. "It's a good opportunity for us to reassess our marketing strategy," Burnette says, noting recent conversations with the city's other weekly that targets the African-American community, the Richmond Voice.

"We're in the evaluation stages learning about these other organizations and media companies that might help us reach these diverse markets within our community," Burnette says. S



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