Before returning to Providence, his hometown, Barry Fain worked in advertising in New York City. “I was one of the later ‘Mad Men’ – in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s,” he said. “It was an exciting time.”
Eventually finding his way back home to run a new family business, Fain found a project to keep his creative juices flowing: East Side, a weekly publication in its onset and East Side Monthly’s precursor. “It was much more irreverent,” recalled Fain, “and competed with The NewPaper.”
Although The NewPaper, which later became The Providence Phoenix, is now defunct, Fain is bullish on print media: today, Providence Media’s 50-person team – employees and freelancers – produces four monthly publications, including East Side Monthly.
In 1974, Providence was “in transition… rough around the edges, but… moving in the right direction. That was the first year of Buddy Cianci, who came in as a reformer,” he said. “Buddy got us to believe in ourselves.” Now, Providence is vastly better, with a world-class restaurant scene, a vibrant downtown, a continued commitment to preservation and the energy of Brown and RISD.
Although Providence’s small size and good people should generate solutions, we’ve failed to do so, according to Fain. That – and Providence’s precarious finances – frustrates him, but he is enthused by individuals relocating here.
“If people in their 50s… become vibrant, contributing members of the community,” he adds, “we have an excellent opportunity.”
Nearly 500 monthly issues later, Fain serves as an unofficial ambassador for Providence and uses East Side Monthly to celebrate Providence’s assets and identify its deficits. By giving space to community organizations to communicate with their constituencies and to local political candidates to explain their platforms, addressing “town and gown” tensions and providing forums for East Siders to express themselves, “we’ve become a champion of the community,” said Fain, a one-time General Assembly candidate. “Hopefully, people see this as their paper.”
Fain, who serves or has served on the boards of the Providence Rotary, the United Way, Moses Brown, the World Affairs Council and the College Hill Neighborhood Association, among others, has a laser-like focus for East Side Monthly: “Make the East Side as wonderful as possible while staying on the City to make sure it doesn’t fall apart.”
Although he won’t guarantee another 40-year East Side Monthly run, Fain said, “I hope it will be here to reflect the community’s views… as a bridge between the businesses… we rely on and the [residents]. If you serve your community well, [a paper] has a very vibrant future.”
Nancy Kirsch is an award-winning freelance writer in Providence. Contact her at email@example.com