You only have a few days – through April 8 to be exact – to register for our Caribbean Cruise Giveaway at participating neighborhood businesses.

All you have to do is stop by any or all of these businesses (no purchase is necessary, although it would certainly be appreciated) and fill out the registration form provided. There will be a semifinalist from each business, with the grand prize winners selected from among these semifinalists.

Two lucky readers will each win a Royal Caribbean cruise for two, including airfare to Fort Lauderdale, as part of this promotion celebrating the Advocate’s fifth birthday.

Someone asked me the other day how the Advocate could afford to give away two cruises valued at about $4,000 each.

The answer is simple: It’s not just the Advocate giving away the cruises; it’s a huge network of neighborhood businesses that have chipped in promotional funds and space in their businesses for reader signups.

At the top of the list is Steven and Dianne Harris of Cruise Holidays, LBJ and Skillman, which worked with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines to make the cruise vacations available. You can read more about their business and staff in our four-page cruise insert at the center of this month’s paper.

I’d also like to thank the neighborhood businesses who agreed to participate in the Advocate’s first big giveaway promotion.

Helping us are Ebby Halliday Realtors, Herb’s Paint & Body shops, The Grape, El Arroyo, Scotty’s Golf Park, Fresco’s Produce Market, Barbec’s, Tiffany’s Salon, Lakewood Ace Hardware, Premiere Video, Coach’s Grill, ST Café, Joe Willy’s Market & Grill, Whole Foods Market, Picture Perfect in Lake Highlands, One-Hour MotoPhoto in Lakewood, Casa Linda 4 Theater, Broken Iron Custom Clubs and Repair, ZuZu, CopyBoy, TigerBull’s, Annette Stone State Farm, Martin’s Cocina, Lakewood Bar & Grill, Women’s Total Fitness, Our Cleaner World, First Interstate Bank in Lakewood, and Doctors Hospital.

Flip to the center of this month’s Advocate, pull out the special Cruise Flyer inside our Datebook entertainment and activities section, and stop by these neighborhood businesses.

These businesses signed up for our promotion in hopes of thanking existing customers for their patronage and attracting new customers from our neighborhood.

And when you do stop by, please thank these businesses for participating in this promotion. If enough of you like what we’re doing, chances are good we’ll be able to do it again.

The Way We Were

As I mentioned earlier in this column, this month is the beginning of the Advocate’s sixth year of publishing community newspapers.

I happened to run across a copy of our inaugural issue the other day, and it was interesting to flip through our first paper – a 12-page issue – and take notice of how we have changed over the years.

Perhaps the biggest change has been increased support from advertisers. That first issue had the support of a grand total of seven (that’s right, 7) paying advertisers. (Needless to say, that wasn’t our most profitable issue.)

By way of comparison, more than 200 neighborhood businesses advertised in our newspapers last month.

As an interesting sidelight, of the seven original advertisers, two are no longer in business, one simply doesn’t advertise with us anymore, and four remain with us today.

So I’d like to offer a word of special thanks to the neighborhood businesses who saw value in what we were trying to accomplish and who have stayed with us through the years: The Wehby family of Trice Carpets, Bill “Bulldog” Cunningham of Farmers Insurance, Annette Stone of State Farm Insurance, and the Nagars of newly expanded Lakewood Ace Hardware.

We published that first newspaper with no full-time help, and we threw the papers on 5,000 doorsteps ourselves. Last month we printed about 61,000 newspapers, with more than 43,000 newspapers hung on neighborhood doorknobs, and another 17,000 newspapers distributed in racks at neighborhood businesses.

Our first issue was completely black-and-white. This issue of the Advocate has at least six full-color pages.

One thing hasn’t changed, though. We’re still dedicated to improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods, and we’re still doing our best to accomplish that goal every month.

If you have ideas about ways we can improve the Advocate, I hope you’ll give me a call. Just dial 823-5885, ext. 212, and I’ll be happy to talk with you – whether you like our newspaper or not.

For as anyone who has started a business from scratch can tell you, after five years, I’m just happy to still be here.