Art Zimmer was the publisher of the Syracuse New Times from 1984 to 2010, when he retired and sold the Central New York alternative newsweekly to current publisher Bill Brod. Zimmer’s new endeavor, more than two years in the making, is a memoir that chronicles chapters of his life with poignant anecdotes that do not hold back.
Log Cabin Books will debut Making It Count: From A to Z, The Life and Times of Art Zimmer (216 pages; $19.95) on Monday, Sept. 21. Zimmer will be on hand for the book launch and signing on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., at the Syracuse New Times’ world headquarters, 1415 W. Genesee St.
Zimmer, 78, admitted that this literary project didn’t start with his influence. “My wife Shirley had suggested for several years that we do a book on my life. I kept pooh-poohing the idea. Who would be interested in my life?” Zimmer recalled. “She worked on this book for about a full year without my knowing about it. It was designed to be my 75th birthday present.”
Zimmer then brought in Lois Gridley to help edit, write and expand the concept. Zimmer eventually turned to writing down his own stories, giving better details about the aspects of his life for inclusion. Text kept building up, as the product turned out much longer than expected after two years.
It’s fair to mention that Zimmer wasn’t much of a writer. At Hamilton Central School, he failed high school English three years in a row, and it looked like he would not graduate.
“You couldn’t do it today, but I threatened them,” he said. “They said, ‘We can’t give you a diploma.’ I laughed.” Instead, Zimmer threatened to return the following year. After deliberation, school administrators said they would give him the diploma — if he promised to never come back. “I graduated 43rd in my class, of which there were 43 people in the Class of 1956,” he said.
Zimmer had good reason for missing school days: He had many daily responsibilities to fulfill at his father’s dairy farm in Hamilton. His participation in the family business proved to be the necessary experience that has fueled Zimmer’s engine.
“There were 13 multimillion-dollar corporations that I owned and operated. The Syracuse New Times is only just one,” Zimmer said, listing the graphic arts and typesetting businesses, the maple sugar candy company, involvement with Vermont ski resorts and the Zimmer Neo-Classic Motor Car Company. Despite the surname, Zimmer had no relation to the namesake auto manufacturer.
“I was never a car guy,” Zimmer explained. “I just always had a car to get me places. We saw a big fancy car with our name on it, and my wife suggested we buy one. I continued the same style and look of the original company.”
Money should not get in the way of pursuit of success, according to Zimmer. “You never let lack of money hold you back. Just step out there and do it. ‘Just Do It.’ I invented the slogan before Nike. They should pay me royalties on it.”
Readers will get the author’s stories, but Zimmer hopes everyone will take away a little more. He said that when you’re in business, you will get an awful lot of “unnecessary and expensive harassment” from government-based entities. Business people are afraid to make it public because they will get harassed more.
For Zimmer, honesty is the only policy. The stories are told objectively, and names have been published in regard to issues he has come across with the city of Syracuse and New York state. If a lawsuit arises, he said it’ll only produce free publicity for the book. It matters to get the work done, be consistent and progressive.
“Work longer and work harder than anyone else,” Zimmer noted. “I went one stretch for seven years without a single day off. If you want to be successful, that’s what you have to do. I’d work 20 hours a day, seven days a week. I was the Syracuse New Times; the Syracuse New Times was me. If I promoted me, I promoted the publication. Anyone who thinks you can promote too much, they’re not going to be as successful as they could be.”
Helping Zimmer achieve his goals is Shirley, a former schoolteacher who spent 24 years alongside her husband at the Syracuse New Times. “She was as instrumental in its success as I was. I would work 70 hours each week, and she’d work 70 hours each week.”
They have been married 28 years after meeting on a blind date set up through mutual friends. Zimmer was 50 when he got married, but it didn’t matter. “It is one of those things. You know when it happens. That’s it.”
Following the couple’s retirement, the Hamilton residents are now active in many local projects, including the Hamilton Business Alliance, the Arts at the Palace performing arts center, the Earlville Opera House, and preserving and protecting open land from development. They will also be traveling to promote the autobiography, which includes Zimmer‘s interactions with Jerry Lee Lewis, Maria von Trapp, the prime minister of Kuwait, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, and even the time when Art almost got into a fight with George Foreman.