Exit Zero hit the streets of Cape May on July 4 weekend, 2003. The idea had been hatched around five months earlier in Congress Hall’s Brown Room, during a conversation between Curtis Bashaw, one of the owners of the hotel, and Jack Wright, an award-winning British-born editor who had come to Cape May in the summer of 2002 after quitting his job as a New York magazine editor (for Gear, Us Weekly and Men’s Journal).
Wright had spent the summer of 2002 managing the newly-opened pool cabana at Congress Hall and had decided to stay in Cape May for the winter to write and edit, at Bashaw’s request, a book about the history of Congress Hall, titled Tommy’s Folly.
While researching the book, Wright had come across dozens of copies of an old magazine called Pennywise that had circulated during the summers in Cape May from the 1930s to the early 80s. Wright had been impressed by the magazine’s cheerful, cheeky tone, and Bashaw, who had summered in the town since the ’60s, was also a huge fan.
Together, they decided to bring back the spirit of Pennywise, albeit in a bigger, more professionally-produced format. The idea for Exit Zero was born.
As for the name, Bashaw had recently commissioned a series of T-shirts, designed by Wright, to promote Congress Hall, and had used the tagline: Meet Me At Exit Zero, alluding to the fact that the 172-exit Garden State Parkway runs out just before the city limits.
It was the only name for the new magazine.
A few months later, in April 2003, David Gray, a former colleague of Wright’s at a weekly newspaper in Glasgow, Scotland in the early 90s and at the New York magazine Gear in the late 90s, came from Edinburgh to visit Cape May for a week or so. He ended up staying for five months and helped Wright launch the magazine, drawing up a design for the magazine that was deliberately retro, with a 1930s feel.
They were joined by Maciek Nabrdalik, who had worked with Wright at the Congress Hall pool cabana as a lifeguard. The Polish computer science student was also an extremely talented young photographer whose brilliant shots helped give the magazine its instant lift-off. Nabrdalik is now one of Poland’s top photographers.
The first issue of Exit Zero was 24 pages thick, a rather modest achievement, but its mix of pf photographs (of people on the beach, in bars, on the street), humorous columns and useful tourist information and advice made it a must-read.
Within three weeks, it had doubled in size and never stopped growing.
For its first 18 months, the magazine was owned by Beach Plum Press, a company set up by Bashaw and Wright to publish Tommy’s Folly. In late 2004, Bashaw and Wright reached a warm and fuzzy agreement that led to Wright forming a company called Exit Zero Publishing and taking over sole ownership of the magazine.
In December, 2004, Jason Black joined the company as Advertising Manager, adding a sorely-needed infusion of organizational brilliance. Black’s skills and dedication have ensured that no other publication can match Exit Zero for the service it provides its advertisers. (He later became Jack’s partner in the company.) In 2005, the company published its first annual Cool Cape May guidebook, which is distributed to virtually every motel, hotel and B&B room in Cape May and which has been described by more than one local business person as “the best inroom book I have seen in the country.” We also opened our first retail store, on the south wing of Congress Hall, selling merchandise branded with our logo, as well as artwork by Mike DeMusz and Victor Grasso.
In the fall of 2006, the company finally left Jack’s home on Stimpson Lane (where the office had occupied four different rooms over the years) and moved to a very cool space in Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum. After three happy years there, we moved to our new home at 109 Sunset Boulevard, integrating our office and store into one very convenient location. Today, it’s a 2,500-square-foot shopping paradise, which you really need to see to believe.
In the summer of 2009, Exit Zero Publishing released a history book about Cape May, The First Resort, written by our Historical Editor Ben Miller. Its 4,000 print run sold out in six months, an extraordinary achievement for a little publishing company like ours (according to Publishers Weekly, the average book published in America sells only 500 copies!).
Exit Zero has also published custom books for individuals and companies from as near as Wildwood to as far as Glasgow, Scotland. So far, they have nearly 30 books to their name. If you are interested in having a book published, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org