L.A. Weekly took a blow where it hurts last week with the loss of Mike Menza, the longtime circulation director for this paper and our sister publication, the O.C. Weekly. Menza, who passed away on April 21 after battling cancer, had been at L.A. Weekly for more than 19 years. He was a spark plug of a man — quiet and reliable, and displaying an encyclopedic knowledge of where every one of both the Weeklys’ thousands of bundles of papers went, how well they moved in each venue, and what kind of return rate on unread issues we could expect, from the chaotic lobby of a Hollywood record store to a lonely news rack near City Hall.

Menza led a tireless staff in one of publishing’s crucial but little-known fields, one requiring physical stamina, intimate demographic intelligence and a head for quick calculation. His efforts guaranteed an extremely low rate of return for L.A. Weekly issues — 2 to 4 percent, versus an industry average of 8 to 12 percent among alternative newspapers and 35 percent for magazines.

“Mike was our secret weapon,” L.A. Weekly editor in chief Laurie Ochoa says. “One of the big reasons we’re still alive and kicking, even in this economy, is Mike’s genius at knowing exactly where we need to be on the streets — and how to keep readers hungry for the paper. He kept a wait list of places that wanted to stock the paper, and if he saw too many returns at a particular location, he’d pull the papers without mercy and put them where he knew they’d disappear fast.”

“In the seven years I’ve been with the company,” says L.A.Weekly and O.C. Weekly group publisher Beth Sestanovich, “we always had 100 percent accuracy in our audits thanks to Mike, no matter what company we worked with. I don’t know very many companies that can claim that. I always thought that was extraordinary.”

It was a tribute to Menza’s selfless personality that very few of us guessed the status of his health.

“Mike’s way was one of being a very quiet soldier,” wrote Sestanovich in a company-wide e-mail. “He forged on doing his job regardless of the fact that he was in a fight for his life.”

“He never lost that big, wide smile of his,” Ochoa adds. “It was like he was always telling you everything would be all right.”

In Orange County, Matt Coker writes on the paper’s news blog, “There is one other thing Mike will be known for, as long as those of us who remember back that far are still around: his skills at third base and ability to wrangle ringers for O.C. Weekly’s softball team. Thanks to these contributions, we kicked ass in a Press Club tournament in our early days. One other thing I’ll recall about Mike: He sure looked cute in his baseball pants.”

Thanks for everything, Mike — we’ll miss you.

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