NOCO Style Through the Years

On a spring day in 1985, Lydia Dody had one of her models perched on a rock in the middle of the Poudre River wearing a $380 dress, which would be worth over $1,000 today. Dody was taking photos for the June issue of her fashion “magazine,” a 24-page pamphlet with black-and-white photos, hand-drawn illustrations, product descriptions and short articles held together by a stapled binding. The model shrieked as a snake slithered by, and Dody dropped what she was doing in order to keep that designer dress from getting wet.

Dody was known throughout Fort Collins as the go-to source for women’s fashion trends. She had several high-end boutiques and sold exclusive lines of women’s apparel and accessories she bought at markets in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles. One of her shops, called “Lydia’s,” was located in Scotch Pines Village where Island Grill is now.

The internet was hardly a thing yet, and with few ways to advertise, Dody had created a direct mail piece for her customers in 1984. The result was an eight-page newsletter containing descriptions of the latest pieces at Lydia’s as well as items available at trunk shows.

“Everywhere I went, people would mention it to me,” Dody says. “They’d say, ‘I got your neat magazine.’  The first one was so popular that I thought, ‘I’m going to do [another magazine] for Christmas.’”

The Christmas newsletter was twice the size and included a holiday gift guide and a new section Dody called “Meet the Model” that highlighted philanthropic or otherwise well-known women in the community. The cost of production was so high—Dody couldn’t afford four color printing—that she asked local businesses to advertise in the tiny publication. Some of her first advertisers that are still in business today were John Atencio, Markley Motors and Outpost Sunsport.

As advertising dollars increased, Dody found more opportunities to be creative. She did more photoshoots, and before long, she’d published a series of seasonal magazines called “Lydia’s Style” that showcased everything from women’s swimwear to office attire to tailgating outfits to wear to football games at Hughes Stadium. On top of all that, she debuted “About Town,” a section featuring locals attending community events (see our continuation of About Town on page 70).

Dody didn’t really know how to be a publisher, even when the magazine exceeded 24 pages. The model’s close call with the snake wasn’t out of the ordinary; every issue was an adventure that came with its own challenges.

What began as a fun way to bring awareness to Dody’s stores soon became a thing of its own. Dody had heard of a publishing conference in California and decided to go. She was humbled by the experience, but rather than getting discouraged, she took the opportunity to learn.

“I was like, ‘Oh, magazine people! I have to go talk to them,’” she says. “It was the most embarrassing thing because these were national magazines. It was, ‘Fort Collins where? How many pubs do you have?’ But I started listening to the lingo, the words in the industry that I didn’t know and the things I was teaching myself with street sense.”

The plunge into publishing

By the early 1990s, Dody had sold her boutiques and was focusing solely on Lydia’s Style, slowly transforming it from a fashion magazine into a publication featuring the people, places and happenings in Fort Collins.

She was doing well: Her magazines were 50 pages or more, half the space was filled with ads and she had a team of contributing writers, photographers, designers and sales reps. But it was still difficult. Every issue meant gluing text to the pages and color separating photos before assembling the magazine and sending it off to the printer. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that Dody hired a designer who knew how to do desktop publishing, and Dody’s sister, Ina Szwec, came onboard to photograph events for About Town.

Even with more help, there were still plenty of obstacles to hurdle. One major challenge came when Dody’s team was working out of her basement at The Landings in Fort Collins, where she had relocated her office in 1994. A neighbor caught wind that Dody had been running the magazine out of her house and reported her to the HOA and the zoning board.

“She started photographing the license plates of the people who came and went,” Dody says. “The zoning department gave me a notice that I had two days to close my home business or be fined $1,000 a day.”

In those two days, friends and family helped Dody move Lydia’s Style out of her home and into an office in Drake Professional Park, where the magazine stayed until Dody purchased and renovated a building at 211 W. Myrtle Street in 2006.

Dody’s confidence grew throughout the early 2000s as she introduced special issues in addition to her monthly magazine. She had magazines featuring local weddings, building projects and business breakthroughs as well as medical topics and directories listing the top doctors at Poudre Valley Hospital, Medical Center of the Rockies and the Banner Health system.

But Dody’s most prized magazines were the breast cancer issues she put out every fall starting in 2001, just a year after she received her own diagnosis. She’d tell the stories of women going through treatment and recovery as a way of honoring their journeys. She even had the opportunity to interview Olivia Newton-John (the “Grease” actress and singer who had breast cancer) and featured her on the September 2012 cover.

“Each of [the women] were so grateful to have the opportunity to tell their story because it was very healing,” Dody says. “We’d have their hair done, outfit them and photograph them at their best. I photographed them in my garage, which I transformed into a photo studio, and we’d have brunch at my house.”

Angie Grenz was the managing editor at the time and entertained an interesting idea in 2014: An annual “Best of” contest that would give readers the opportunity to vote for their favorite breakfast place, hair salon, music venue and other local businesses. During the first few years, readers filled out paper ballots and dropped them into plexiglass boxes around Northern Colorado to be tallied. The tradition is still alive today, though it has been digitized and refined. Last year marked a decade of Best of NOCO, bringing in a record 266,937 votes.

“We thought that would be a fun thing for the community; it’s competitive and polarizing and people enjoy being able to weigh in,” Grenz says. “It was a much smaller survey back then, and we had to stick to some pretty basic categories.”

More than a magazine

In 2017, Dody’s printing rep asked her a question she wasn’t prepared to answer: “Do you have a succession plan?” She was getting older, and she knew her daughters weren’t interested in taking over the magazine. But it was her baby and she wasn’t sure if she was ready to let go.

“I said what so many entrepreneurs say: ‘If somebody came to my door and gave me a check for my business, I might say OK,’” Dody says.

The rep told two other publishers that Dody might be open to selling her magazine, and both were interested. One of them was Tonja Randolph, NOCO Style’s current president and publisher. She made an offer, and Dody accepted.

“I saw the potential to expand the magazine into a regional publication and was inspired by the success and style of 5280 in the Denver area,” Randolph says. “Creating a similar impact in Northern Colorado was appealing, especially considering the opportunity to involve my daughters in the business if they were interested.”

Randolph retained Dody’s staff and brought on her oldest daughter, Ashley Duval, to sell ads and run the annual Best of NOCO contest. But Randolph had a vision for the magazine that went far beyond what it was: She wanted to build a better website, create social media accounts, send email newsletters and transform it into a conduit for community connection. She also changed the name to “NOCO Style” to better reflect the region it represents.

She was able to achieve those goals by bringing on younger staff members who have a knack for navigating the digital world, including Jordan Secher, NOCO Style’s marketing and communications coordinator. Still, NOCO Style was a different animal than Randolph’s other magazines—two national publications with big advertisers and a readership spanning the U.S.— and she quickly realized that her team needed to get out in the community to form relationships in an area as tightly knit as Northern Colorado.

So, in 2018, Randolph moved the team into desk chair,  a coworking space in Downtown Loveland. NOCO Style would host monthly happy hours there until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grenz had recently rejoined the staff after a hiatus spent opening Verboten Brewing & Barrel Project with her husband, and she was determined to continue putting out magazines when the rest of the world shut down.

“We had some terribly tiny magazines, but we pushed through, especially in March, April and May,” Grenz says. “We could have thrown our hands up and come back in a couple months, but we all felt strongly that it was our job to remain a resource for the community during COVID.”

Things have ramped back up since then, and NOCO Style now hosts monthly happy hours at different locations across Northern Colorado to bring readers and advertisers together in celebration of the latest issue. Both the depth and range of the magazine’s content have increased too, ranging from fun lifestyle topics—food and drink, home and garden, arts and culture—to hard-hitting news stories that cover serious issues such as homelessness, affordable housing, addiction and even sex trafficking. New traditions have also emerged, including NOCO Style’s 30 Under 30 issue, which features impressive young adults in Northern Colorado every August.

“Building trust with our audience and our readers who know that we aren’t biased in our content has been very important,” Randolph says. “With so many other magazines, you don’t know if you’re reading an ad or something else.”

The future of the magazine is dependent on the quality of the content, Randolph says. She hopes that NOCO Style will always remain a source of invaluable, newsworthy information and that readers feel confident keeping each issue on their coffee table as a reference. Grenz has since left her role as editor to focus on Verboten (they’re opening a second location at the old Black Bottle building in Fort Collins), and Laurel Aiello, a CSU journalism alum and long-time freelancer for NOCO Style, took over her role last spring.

When Randolph purchased Lydia’s Style, she asked Dody to stick around for the transition. But Dody never really left. Now, nearly 40 years after that first, eight-page issue went to print, she continues to sell ads when she’s not getting involved with her breast cancer nonprofit, Hope Lives!, or taking it easy with friends and family.

“I can’t tell you how many people have kept every issue of Lydia’s Style,” Dody says. “I’ve had people come up to me in restaurants and say, ‘I had to downsize my house and get rid of all my magazines,’ and it breaks my heart because it was sort of the history of Fort Collins and the growth of this region and this community. To see it go from a little pamphlet to a full magazine was very cool.”