Cleveland's own Alternative Press weathers the storm

LAST MAG STANDING? 

Cleveland's own Alternative Press weathers the storm

Blender magazine folded last week, placing Cleveland-based Alternative Press indisputably in the top three glossy monthly music mags.

The independently owned AP consistently ranks second in bookstore sales, behind Rolling Stone, above Paste and far beyond Spin. It doesn't have the size or cachet of Rolling Stone or Spin, but it has the best track record for breaking bands, especially since the millennium turned. It has single-handedly owned the Warped Tour generation and has served as a tip sheet for other magazines, chronicling bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. In the late '80s, AP also caught the alternative wave before there was a word for it.

As Rolling Stone and Blender downsized, AP held its own. Blender's February issue had a mere 76 pages, down from 120 a year earlier. AP's had 120 — down just eight pages from its February 2008 issue. Founder/president Mike Shea says newsstand sales are down 7 percent, well below the industry average of close to 35 percent. Its circulation is holding steady at just under 300,000. While Blender cover photos alternated pop stars like Lil Wayne with "celebrities" like Tila Tequila, AP kept ferreting out emo and punk up-and-comers like a Day To Remember. Shea says they'll remain on course. (Full disclosure: This writer has contributed to AP here and there.)

"I don't think [Blender's demise is] going to mean much for us, in all honesty," says Shea. "We're a niche magazine that caters to a certain kind of crowd. And Blender was everything to everybody, and it was more pop than anything else. Does it mean we're going to get some ad dollars out of it? Possibly. Does it mean we're going to get subscribers? I doubt it. The reader was totally different."

Another reason the Cleveland magazine can compete with New York- and Chicago-based pubs: the good ol' fashioned blue-collar work ethic. Blender's masthead listed 37 positions for just editors, online producers and publishers, including six staffers specifically designated to handle copy. AP has 14 people for comparable positions, with one copy editor. As music magazines and newspapers collapse and downsize left and right, AP hasn't made any staff cuts. (Somewhat curiously, it hasn't had an influx of offers from would-be writers.)

Of course, Shea says the magazine's future is bright. But even the haters are grudgingly acknowledging its strong hand. In its South By Southwest music festival coverage, the erudite Village Voice noted that the AP showcase had the rowdiest line and declared: "Try not to act surprised when Alternative Press is the last music magazine standing." — D.X. Ferris

CLOSING IN ON AMY'S KILLER?

Nearly 20 years ago, Rick Burns waited patiently for the police to return to his auto-body shop across the street from the police station to show him photos of the man he saw with Amy Mihaljevic the day of her abduction. But they never came.

Burns maintains that a strange man with shaggy hair parked a sedan in Burns' personal space, closest to the Bay Square Plaza, on October 27, 1989. He remembers the date because it was also the day he brought his newly restored truck to the shop to show off to his buddies and was miffed to find his spot was taken. Burns says the man later pulled around the shop to the pumps, where he was standing. In the back seat was a young girl he believes to have been Amy Mihaljevic. The man asked Burns for directions to I-480 and then left.

Two days after Amy disappeared, FBI agents came to Burns' shop and took all the receipts for the previous two months. They took his statement. And that was that. He never heard from them again.

Last week, at the request of Channel 5's investigative reporter Duane Pohlman and Scene, Burns reviewed a series of photographs of suspects and non-suspects. Without hesitation, Burns picked out former Amherst middle-school science teacher Dean Runkle as the man he saw at his shop that day. In November, Scene identified Runkle as the prime suspect in this case after speaking to sources familiar with the investigation and with Runkle himself, who now manages a Wendy's in Key West. (Photos of Runkle are posted on the Scene&Heard blog at clevescene.com.)

Bay Village police have so far downplayed this revelation, stating that Burns' memory is not reliable. But Burns isn't the only eyewitness to ID Runkle. A girl from Amy's school saw Amy with her abductor that day. Recently, she was shown a lineup of 30-plus individuals. She too went right to Runkle's picture. Later, she told Scene that his picture was so similar in appearance to the man from her nightmares that she wished the police would take a hard look at him. Following our coverage in November, the FBI did send an agent out to Florida to re-interview Runkle, but instead of sending someone intimately familiar with the case, they sent an agent from headquarters with little to no experience with the investigation. — James Renner

CLE ROCK CITY

To drum up regional support for the upcoming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductions, tourism-promotion group Positively Cleveland hosted what it called a "fam tour" (fam as in familiarization) with area journalists last week. The day started with a Rock Hall press conference about the inductions that included handing out proclamations to Bootsy Collins of Parliament-Funkadelic and the O'Jays' Walter Williams, both previously inducted. From the Rock Hall, a bus took the writers to the Beachland Ballroom where co-owner Cindy Barber talked about how she and partner Mark Leddy, who quietly manned a pair of turntables and spun old-school soul singles, had transformed the Croatian dance hall into the area's most happening music joint. Their hope, she said, was that the entire Collinwood neighborhood would become a haven for artsy types.

To prove her point, she took everyone on a tour of area shops, including indie record store Music Saves, offbeat toy, gift and T-shirt shop Shoparooni, and the newly opened vintage-vinyl store Blue Arrow, as well as Exit Stencil, the local record label and recording studio manned by Ryan Weitzel. From there, local musician and scholar Lawrence Daniel Caswell took over, leading the group to Zombie Proof Studio, the St. Clair loft space where his band, This Moment in Black History, has recorded at dirt-cheap rates. Then, as if to provide contrast, he led everyone next door to the more refined Ante Up Audio, where one of its well-dressed owners noted that millions of dollars had gone into its state-of-the-art gear, which has attracted national acts such as Dave Matthews and Kelly Clarkson. Pulled from a Chicago studio where Loverboy and Def Leppard once laid down tracks, the mixing board alone is worth a small fortune.

The tour-takers also met Vincent Slusarz, who plans to open Gotta Groove Records with vinyl-pressing equipment he bought from a plant in New Jersey. Gotta Groove will be one of only 11 vinyl pressing plants in the whole country.

After a stop at House of Blues, including its VIP Foundation Room, the group went on to Tremont's Prosperity Social Club, where locals Martini Five-O played a mix of covers and lounge originals. Afterward, the group split, with half going back to the Beachland to check out singer-songwriter Glenn Tilbrook and the other half heading to the Brothers Lounge on the West Side to see local rockabilly acts Lords of the Highway and Madison Crawl.

While "tour guide" isn't a usual gig for Caswell, he was well-suited to the task. Here's to hoping it's not the last time he gets to drop some science about the city's rock 'n' roll history. — Jeff Niesel

STILL PROUD?

Bob Serpentini, Mr. American and Proud of It, is apparently so American that he's in danger of defaulting on millions of dollars in loans provided by GMAC financial services to his Aurora dealership. Defaulting on loans, after all, is the new cool thing to do in this country, especially when corporations are being handed fat bailouts ever other week. Strangely, though, Serpentini doesn't seem to be cutting back on expenses — his slick mug is all over the tube and changing the name of Lakewood's Winterhurst ice rink to Serpentini Arena couldn't have been free.

Managers at Serpentini's dealerships told Scene they're still selling cars. But GMAC says their company will no longer loan Serpentini the cash he needs to put more cars on his lots. "The Aurora location is in dealership default," explains GMAC spokesperson Sue Mallino. "Typically, we provide companies with three months to sell off their inventory, pay back the money or sell the store. We're working with this dealer to give him more time to get through his financial difficulties. In the meantime, we're overseeing the inventory." GMAC auditors are currently keeping tabs on the books there. GMAC is also still providing loans to customers looking to finance purchases at the dealerships.

When reached by phone, Serpentini downplayed GMAC's tough stance. "They're out here all the time," he says. "We're still selling cars."

What of the other three stores, in Strongsville, Tallmadge and Orville? Other lenders such as KeyBank finance the cars at those dealerships. KeyBank reps would not comment on record.

Of course, Serpentini could always sell off his share of the private club he oversees on Lake Erie, home to a quasi-socialist utopia staffed with young Russian women on student visas. — Renner

more online at clevescene.com

HAGGLING OVER MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH

It's becoming increasingly clear that the jailhouse snitch who testified that he heard Brett Hartmann confess to killing Winda Snipes was lying to get out of jail sooner ("Deadline," March 25). But Summit County prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh is still pushing to have Hartmann executed on April 7.

At press time, an investigator with the Federal Public Defender's Capital Habeas Unit was trying to obtain details from the snitch's former lawyer, but the lawyer was resisting, apparently reluctantly, on the grounds of attorney-client privilege. For details and further updates, visit the Scene&Heard blog at clevescene.com. — Renner

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