CHAPPAQUA — The immense winged Pegasus statues will stay — but only because the symbols of Reader’s Digest are too heavy to be moved from atop the Georgian cupola. The stretch of blacktop off the Saw Mill River Parkway is still called Reader’s Digest Road. But the company that gave these things to Chappaqua is gone. Some might say Reader’s Digest as they knew it has been gone for a while. But this month the Digest officially moved its last workers out of the building in Chappaqua where it put out the world’s largest-circulation magazine since 1939. The Digest’s new headquarters are in Manhattan and a few departments work out of White Plains. The Chappaqua headquarters building that was for decades filled with thousands of employees will be leased to other companies by its new owners. But the memories of the Digest’s days in Chappaqua will linger.
In its heyday during the lifetime of its founders, DeWitt and Lila Wallace, the company took its place as the premier corporate citizen of Chappaqua, a place where locals could go down and get a job and employees were treated to legendary perks. But after its founders died and the company went public in 1990, the things that made both the magazine and the business distinctive began to change as it tried to remake itself to fit a new media landscape.
For decades, though, the Digest was different.
“It was a very great place to work,” said Ed Thompson, a former editor-in-chief for The Reader’s Digest Association. “I can’t imagine a company being better.”
For DeWitt Wallace, the most important thing was his employees, not the readers, said Thompson, who joined the company in 1960 and lives in North Salem.
“He wanted them to be as happy as can be and paid well,” he said.
The Wallaces spent a lot of money keeping their staff cheerful and intellectually stimulated, sending editors on annual trips to destinations of their choosing and clerical employees to Colonial Williamsburg, buying museum-quality art to hang in the halls and offices of the headquarters and bringing in famous people from presidents to Arctic explorers for lunches in the Guest House on the Digest grounds.