September 7, 2018 by and
Photography by contributed

Encounter Founder

by Tara Spencer

Encounter Magazine recently underwent a pretty major transformation. For some, the product you see now may not resemble the original at all. It shouldn’t. Media has evolved, and Omaha Publications has consistently leveled up as time and progress demands. Encounter has expanded its focus, and now features individuals who represent not just the Old Market neighborhood, but all the burgeoning artistic areas of Omaha. 

Looking at issues of the original The Old Market Encounter, it’s easy to see why Barbara Shaffer felt the need to cover the bustling neighborhood she loved. It was the place for creatives to gather and exchange ideas, resources, and support as they grew their businesses. She felt it was underrepresented in traditional media and wanted to ensure its significance was recognized. 

Shaffer passed away on Sunday, June 3, 2018, at The Nebraska Masonic Home in Plattsmouth. Her contributions to Omaha’s cultural scene were enormous, and Encounter would not exist without her.   

We at Omaha Publications also feel a need to cover the artistic and cultural landscape of an ever-changing Omaha. In our own way, we are carrying on her tradition of giving voice to those who may not otherwise be heard. 

Encounter in its current form is ground zero for Omaha’s emerging artists. Shaffer was the woman who started it all. Without her work on The Old Market Encounter, Omaha’s beloved arts and culture magazine might not be in your hands today.

Her longtime friend, Paula Steenson, recalls here how it all got started.

Who was Barbara Shaffer?

by Paula Steenson

In March 1995, my friend John Prouty from Wessco Graphics introduced me to Barb Shaffer. She was looking for someone to design and produce a new magazine that she would devote to the Old Market. Her plan was to call it The Old Market Encounter. Her goal was to have a publication that would represent all of the small businesses in the Old Market, featuring stories about them and the people moving into what were then uncultivated spaces above and around the Old Market businesses. 

Shaffer’s husband, Cliff, was a writer. He would write pieces such as “Around and About,” dropping tidbits about what was happening—and there was always something happening—in the Old Market. Independent photographers and writers would submit pictures and articles about one of Omaha’s most unusual tourist locations, including some very unique shops
and restaurants. 

The magazine was in all of the downtown businesses, as well as hotels and doctors’ offices. You never knew what was going to be in the publication, but you knew it would be intriguing.

Barb and Cliff lived in a wonderful apartment in The Greenhouse, which overlooked the Central Park Mall, and Barb was always visiting with folks and businesses in the Market to see who was new. She was always happy to feature them in The Old Market Encounter to help them grow their businesses. 

That was what Barb was all about—helping people, businesses, and her downtown community. Besides being involved in the Old Market Business Association, she was also very involved in Downtown Omaha Inc. Along with Joan Baillon, Shaffer brought about the first biennial gala in 1997 at the Embassy Suites Old Market shortly after it opened. There were 750 people in attendance. 

She also was one of the people who started Dickens in the Market, a forerunner to the Holiday Lights Festival. For a special weekend early in December, volunteers dressed in Dickensian garb and walked around caroling. Various performers danced and played instruments while the restaurants served special holiday food.

In early 2004, Barb and Cliff moved to a drier climate for health reasons, and Barb decided to sell the magazine to Todd Lemke, who owns Omaha Publications. She felt that Todd would be able to keep the feeling going that she had started.

Without Barb, the Old Market wouldn’t be the lively location it is now.

Encounter staff members reached out to other longtime friends, some of whom chimed in with their own stories about Barb.

Ron Samuelson—SamFam LLC, former owner M’s Pub 

In this time of the independent woman, Barb Shaffer may well have been the prototype. Self-made entrepreneur, well-educated, and actualized, she excelled in all of the areas life offered her—family, business, the arts, community, and public service. All were benefited by her love

and participation. She was energized to improve, and her handiwork is imprinted all over our

community. Lights in Central Park Mall, Downtown Improvement District, Encounter Magazine,

and Delice Bakery were small samples of her energies.

She was a student of life, a gentle and impassioned teacher who showed unconditional love

as a wife, mother, sister, and friend. Omaha is a better place because of her presence here and, as in all areas of her life, she left us better than she found us. Hers was a life well lived. We miss her.

Jeff Jorgensen—owner of Tannenbaum Christmas Shop

Barb was a co-founder of Delice European Bakery, originally located at 12th & Howard streets.  Perhaps that led to her involvement in Downtown Omaha, Inc., where she served on the board, and Old Market Business Association, where she served on the board and as president. When Barb identified the need to let visitors know about the Old Market, she created The Old Market Encounter and later the Old Market Directory (both now published by Omaha Publications). Barb was appointed to the Downtown Omaha BID Board where she served as chairperson to create an active organization to promote and improve downtown, resulting in the creation of the Omaha Downtown Improvement District Association. Barb was one of the visionaries who conceived of lighting the Gene Leahy Mall during the holidays. Her legacy is the foundation of many of the successes now visible throughout downtown and the Old Market.

Molly Garriott—former writer for The Old Market Encounter

Having perused the pages of The Old Market Encounter, I decided to reach out to Barb with the aim of becoming a freelance writer. I had, maybe, two bylines to my name, but she treated me like a seasoned pro. Barb was graciousness personified. Each year at Christmas, she and Cliff would treat the magazine’s writers and their spouses to dinner at a downtown restaurant. We dined at establishments like Vivace’s and The Flatiron, places a young couple with babies and student loans could ill afford. That dinner was a holiday highlight. I recall the fare and festive atmosphere fondly. But mostly I remember animated conversations, boisterous laughter, and the feeling of camaraderie Barb fostered. Over 20 years later, I am still writing, thanks in large part to my beginning with Barb.


This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of  Encounter.