Few people have been more loyal to the News-Press than its first advertiser ever — local realtor Merelyn Kaye. And given how she was introduced to the paper’s operation nearly 30 years ago, it’s a surprise she’s still around.
Back then, it was Danny O’Brien coming over to make a sales pitch with his “asymmetrical haircut, where it was shaved on one side and combed over on the other, and he had overalls on with one strap hanging off.” Kaye would go on to say that “it was a wonder we even met with him because our broker, David Howell, is a very proper guy.”
But they did, paying a lump sum for a full year that included a double-truck (an advertisement that spans two facing pages) and giving Kaye the entire back page as well.
The agent who had been in the business for 21 years at that point was now throwing her weight behind a young start-up. It’s fitting, considering how Kaye got her own start in real estate in 1970.
She and her husband, Art, were house-hunting for an older home with a welcoming patina on it, and were as excited as all buyers would be when they actually managed to find just the one.
The couple phoned their agent to come over and write up the contract, but he said he was too busy to make it right then and there.
So, Kaye called the broker for the home, who showed up 15 minutes later to complete the sale. It was that moment where she was set on her path to become a real estate agent.
“I told the broker, ‘If that idiot who wouldn’t come here and write the contract can make a living in real estate then I can too,’ and the broker said back, ‘Well if you get trained, then come see me because you’ll have a job,’” Kaye recollected.
The agent was already a known commodity in the Falls Church and McLean areas when she began her business relationship with the News-Press. Over the years she would regularly vouch for the paper when other agents would call her up and ask if it was a wise investment.
But, again, after her first formal interaction with the newspaper during O’Brien’s sales pitch, Kaye and Art thought it would be best if they designed their own advertisements and delivered them to the staff. It became a weekly ritual to hand over the floppy disk to the News-Press, where they would then print out the ad and paste it onto the back page.
It didn’t take long for the young paper to justify her and her husband’s decision to design their ads ahead of time.
Most other agents, Kaye said, would scribble some marketing language on a sheet of paper and ask the News-Press to handle it from there.
A very prim and proper former agent in the area was one who did just that when she used the newspaper to promote a home of hers with a large deck in the backyard. When Kaye saw the ad in the paper that weekend, she noticed an inconvenient typo that solicited buyers to “Come check out a house with a big…” We’ll let your imagination take it from there.
Still, the newspaper did pull out all the stops for her when the sales meant the most.
When Kaye had the Tallwood home as one of her listings, she coordinated with the paper to make the most of the spaces she paid for. That included using the single pages to show photos of the estate’s gate and tease that into the double truck with a huge shot of Tallwood and had language inviting people to the open house.
The News-Press also helped Kaye celebrate her customers annually by designing a Christmas tree with their names on it in one of her ads. And the staff was always accommodating with last minute changes or edits that Kaye had, which according to her, was fairly often. Of course, it also helped sales.
“There’s no question it did increase my business. I told a lot of people they should advertise there,” Kaye said, adding that sellers would ask her if their home would be featured in her full, back page ad from time-to-time.
Kaye hasn’t been immune to the changing dynamics in advertising, though.
Her ownership of the backpage has steadily decreased to a half and then a quarter over the years because of price. Art would mention to her that the News-Press wouldn’t check in as frequently as they once did, and now her daughter, Karin Morrison, who helps run her operation, said that it’s worth looking into removing her presence from the paper altogether since so much advertising is digital anyways.
But Kaye will often quip that people will think she’s either dead or went out of business if she removes the ad, so she keeps it in. It’s also a commitment to the last local print advertiser she makes use of, since the newspapers in Arlington, Vienna and Alexandria that she used to buy space in have all gone under.
The News-Press is the only one that has stuck it through all those years, so in Kaye’s mind, “I can’t say enough good stuff about the paper.”