By Steve Sears
Joe Nicastro, My Life Publications publisher, and Mount Olive Township Council President, has a fun goal.
He wants to be on stage. “I love comedy. I always wanted to do stand-up comedy. That’s one of the things I wanted to do and actually I did one time. A comedian had invited me to do a stand-up routine at a wedding, believe it or not. I did it, but unfortunately – eh, I won’t say it was that great, but I still want to do something with it.”
He’s also always wanted to and has succeeded at being his own boss. Starting publications in 1987 ended with the sale of that group in 2003, and a decision to move to Mount Olive and start Mount Olive Weekly and Hackettstown Weekly along with his partner and wife, Mary LaLama. In 2015, the couple took over a group of 15 of papers called The Marketeer, and two years later purchased Life & Leisure Publications in the Wayne area, returning to where they first started in 1987, which evolved into the current My Life Publications group which includes Mount Olive Life and 11 other community newspapers.
Nicastro, who was born and raised with two siblings in Garfield, took after his father. “My father was an entrepreneur most of his life. That’s where I learned to start my own businesses, I worked with him when I was young; he was actually a peddler.” When Nicastro was seven years old, the duo used to go door to door on an old school bus selling produce. It taught him about independence and how to run a business.
In 1981 at age 21, he opened his first business, a fruit and vegetable store, and sold it a couple years later. “Then I had a bar and restaurant in Garfield,” he says. “I ran the restaurant and the bar, and I actually was the cook.” Nicastro sold the bar and headed back to the produce business. A partnership in that store did not work out and led to the selling of the store. Nicastro then secured a full-time sales job in publishing with the Wayne Today newspaper. “I became one of their top reps, I was doing a lot of stuff for them. The company had sold to a larger group of newspapers and I just didn’t like the way they were running things. It was then I decided to start my own publication in 1987, which was the Independent News.”
It was the start of a trip that led to his current destination. “We don’t deal with major businesses,” Nicastro says of his publication family. “We take care of the mom and pops. And that’s a big part of all the communities obviously: the mom-and-pop shops. And we all need them in our towns and try to support them. I enjoy communicating with them and helping them build their businesses which helps communities.” Editorial-wise, there’s the beauty of My Life Publications which has always been its foundation. “Even though I’m in politics,” he says, “I don’t like politics in my papers. The furthest we go is if we run an editorial, we do it from the left and the right. We always put one in from each side to balance it out. But for me, it’s always been – for the 34 years of publishing that we’ve been in – about family friendly content. I get such pleasure out of reading the articles that we get.”
Nicastro, who has been in love with Mount Olive since his arrival, has been on the Township Council since 2011 and has served as Council President for the past 7 years. “I always wanted to get into politics, but the timing wasn’t good with the kids. But now the kids were older, and in 2010 I ran on a team ticket (which included current Councilman John Ferrante), and there were three of us running for Council.” He lost that first election but was the top vote getter of the group. When the husband of the woman he lost to got relocated, her vacated seat went to Nicastro by county committee vote. He since has won two re-elections. “My next step is hopefully going to be Mayor. That’s my goal. I love this town and am so honored to be able to represent all residents.”
The 61-year-old Nicastro and his wife Mary will celebrate their 17th wedding anniversary this year. They have five children between them; Nicastro is a dad of two daughters, Mary the mom of two boys and a daughter. “We also have a grandson and granddaughter,” he says proudly.
Next in line is the launch of the My Life TV streaming television network. “We have it set up; we’re just doing all of our content now,” Nicastro says excitedly. “Basically, it’s going to be the same thing that we’re doing in print but bringing it to life.” My Life TV will initially be streamed on Roku and Amazon, and will have all original, local content featuring not only the best of Mount Olive, but also from around New Jersey.
“The Mount Olive residents and businesses of our community are so generous and caring,” Nicastro says. “I love that we can highlight the people that do so much in our communities through my newspapers, and I love to represent them as their Councilman.”