Germantown Newspapers has rent troubles in historic property

To Jim Foster, publisher of the Germantown Chronicle and Mt. Airy Independent newspapers, his young news enterprise’s shaky financial position is no different than that of major media players like The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“If I can make a comparison, the biggest newspaper in the city is in more trouble than we are at this point,” Foster said Thursday. Still, his papers owe their landlords thousands of dollars in back rent on their office location in the historic Clarkson-Watson House, at 5275 Germantown Ave.

On March 16, landlords Clarkson-Watson House LLC won a $9,509.24 judgment in Philadelphia Municipal Court against Germantown Newspapers, Inc. for unpaid rent. The order gives the landlords the ability to evict the papers from the Colonial-era building, in which Thomas Jefferson sought refuge from the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, but that seems unlikely to happen, both parties said.

“It’s an unfortunate situation that exists,” said Peter Dicarlo, one of the property’s owners. “We’ve been very patient.”

The home delivered Chronicle and Independent debuted on April 30, 2009, created by Foster and several former staffers of the Germantown Courier and Mt. Airy Times Express after the Journal Register Corp. shuttered those papers.

A free paper relying on local advertising for revenue, and competing for ad dollars with other local papers such as the Weaver’s Way Shuttle, the newly re-launched Germantown Courier and Mt. Airy Times Express and hyperlocal news websites, the Chronicle has faced an uphill struggle.

Despite initial startup loans from First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, Foster said he sees his papers as one of precious few truly independent editorial voices in Northwest Philadelphia.

Built in 1743, the Clarkson-Watson House was once the home of Matthew Clarkson, who was mayor of Philadelphia from 1792 to 1796. It was later owned by the Germantown Historical Society, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com

Editor’s Note: Patrick Cobbs, a former employee of Germantown Newspapers, edited this story and took the photographs.

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