Creative Loafing Founder Sells Company to Her Children

Deborah Eason relinquishes control of third largest alternative-newspaper chain.

Creative Loafing founder Deborah Eason announced Wednesday that she plans to sell her 28-year-old company to her three children.

Ben Eason, 35, and his two sisters, Jennifer Eason, 36, and Taylor Eason, 31, will purchase controlling interest in Creative Loafing, Inc., which publishes nine weekly newspapers and one monthly paper in the Southeast. Currently, Eason Publishing owners Deborah Eason, her husband Elton and co-publisher Scott Walsey are the principal shareholders. While the deal transfers majority ownership to the three children, Ben Eason said his parents and Walsey will retain an interest in the company.

In return for their controlling interest, the Eason siblings agreed to pay Eason Publishing an undisclosed lump sum and to assume all of Creative Loafing Inc.’s outstanding debt. They plan to finance the deal through bank loans or investor backing, and have until Sept. 30 to buy Eason Publishing’s outstanding shares. Mr. Eason said he believes the deal will close by late August.

Four other shareholders who own a small minority interest in Creative Loafing, Inc. also have an option to sell, according to Mr. Eason.

Under the terms of the agreement, the two Florida weeklies owned by Mr. Eason will join the Creative Loafing chain and he will serve as the company’s president. Also, Walsey will assume Deborah Eason’s position as publisher of Creative Loafing (Atlanta), the company’s flagship paper.

Mr. Eason said his parents intend to use the proceeds from the sale for their retirement. Nevertheless, he said his mother will remain involved in the Internet operations of the company, because she wants to see “her dream evolve.” Ms. Eason helped launch Creative Loafing Network, an online subsidiary of the parent company.

Creative Loafing has come a long way since 1972, when Ms. Eason founded the Atlanta paper in her living room as an arts and entertainment guide. Twenty-eight years later, Creative Loafing (Atlanta) is the second most widely distributed newspaper in Georgia, with a weekly circulation of 124,000. Meanwhile, Creative Loafing, Inc. has become the third largest alternative newspaper chain in the U.S. In addition to the Atlanta paper, the company publishes the AAN-member Creative Loafing (Charlotte), and recently purchased a minority interest in Birmingham Weekly. The firm also owns non-member alternative newsweeklies in North Carolina (The Spectator in Raleigh-Durham); South Carolina (Creative Loafing-Greenville); and Georgia (Creative Loafing-Savannah, and suburban weeklies Topside Loaf and Gwinnett Loaf); a weekly Atlanta nightlife guide (The Scene); and a monthly Nascar publication (Motorsport America).

Ben Eason owns two alternative weeklies in Florida, the AAN-member Weekly Planet in Tampa, and the non-member Weekly Planet of Sarasota. The Tampa paper was launched by Creative Loafing, Inc., in 1988 and was purchased by Mr. Eason in 1993. It is now the third largest paper, and the largest alternative weekly, in the Tampa Bay area. The Sarasota paper made the transition from monthly to weekly distribution in June.

Leave a Reply