If it wasn’t for a fateful dinner in the mid-1970s, residents today might have never known about “A Place Called Reston.”
Early Reston residents Janet Hays and Carolyn Lindberg, who started a Reston directory in 1966, were moving, but wanted their local phone book with that name to live on.
“Someone offered to buy it for $30,000, and they thought it probably wasn’t worth it,” said Nancy Larson, standing in the Reston Museum as she regaled about 30 people with stories.
Hays and Lindberg were worried that the private buyer would simply “take advantage of the advertising list and not carry through.”
With years of experience in the newspaper business, Larson thought it would be fun to take over the directory. “The only thing is I didn’t have $30,000,” said the former Best of Reston winner. “In the end, I only paid them $10,000,” said Larson.
While her offer was for less money, it came with a pledge. “I promised them that I would be as faithful as I could to what they thought this book should try to be,” said Larson.
Thirty years later, Reston’s directory has grown into an indispensable community resource, wanted for much more than phone numbers.
WITH MEMORABLE COVERS, a wealth of historical information, and dozens of photos, residents have always looked forward to the book’s release each year.
“I volunteered here when this [museum] was a library and I’d say, “Oh, you’re new in town. Get yourself a directory. The first 70 pages tell you how to operate in this community,’” said Baba Freeman, who moved to Reston in 1967, recounting a story about how important the directory was.
During an intimate gathering Wednesday, New Town Publications, which produces the directory, celebrated its 40th anniversary. Larson told stories and introduced staff and others who made the company and the directory what it is today.
With nearly 40 covers hanging on the museum wall, Larson revealed to the crowd that the 2004 cover with founder Robert E. Simon sitting next to his statue is her favorite.
But the most fun, she said, was the aerial photo shot for the cover of 1995. Hundreds of Restonians stood in a grouping that spelled out “Reston 30,” to honor Reston’s 30th birthday.
EACH YEAR the book has tried to emulate Reston’s own singular history.
“I think we’re very unique — in quality of service, in presence and in ease of use — and that’s what people tell us,” said Susan Gershon, who has sold advertising 12 years for the phone book. “I don’t feel like we have a lot of competition because there’s no one like us.”
Another staffer said working for New Town has been an education.
“I’ve loved this job because I’ve learned so much about the community,’ said Stephanie Davidson, another longtime employee of New Town Publications.
While the company also produces a few other directories, Davidson said there’s nothing quite like Reston’s. “Of course, this is Nancy’s baby. It’s very, very special.”
BUT THINGS weren’t always so easy during the early years.
“I was always amazed because there wasn’t that much money, but we always paid our bills,” said Larson.
She credits much of the long-term success to Roger Lowe.
“We would not have survived without Roger,” said Larson. “He showed us how to spend our money and save our money.”
“I walked into a situation where there was a great product and great people,” said Lowe, who has since moved to California, but has stayed on the board. “It’s been like a family to me.”
But the directory’s driving force has always been Larson.
“If it hadn’t been for Nancy and [her husband] Cal … there were a number of times it might not have made it,” said Mary Burger, who worked several years off and on for the directory since she moved here in 1970. “There were more times than once that they came to the financial rescue of the directory.”
Burger’s comments followed by a long round of applause in Larson’s honor. Smiles filled the room.
For a moment, Larson was speechless, but when words came back to her, she was quick to give credit to others. “It’s a collaborative effort,” said Larson.
But after a night of hearing little-known stories, Larson said something they all knew: “It’s wonderful living here.”