For many people, there is something special, almost magical, about holding a newspaper or magazine in their hands, but with shifting reading patterns, newspapers are not as dominant as they once were, and as a result, newsstands have been hit hard. Many have taken to selling sundry items like bottled beverages, gum and lottery tickets, which is against Los Angeles’ city municipal code.
For Diz McNally, who has worked at World Book and News at 1652 Cahuenga Blvd. for more than seven years, newsstands and print media is real life “Americana”.
To protect these institutions and McNally’s “Americana” Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District, authored a new motion that aims to protect newsstands by amending the prohibitive code.
“Newsstands are an important element in the street life of a neighborhood, bringing people together to explore the news of the world,” LaBonge said. “But these institutions are an endangered species in the information age and we need to update the way we regulate them.”
Current municipal code prohibits newsstands from selling sundry items, but some, like LaBonge, think if they were allowed to sell the items more businesses could stay above water by increasing their product base.
Renee Portillo, who has worked at Centerfold International Newsstand at 716 N. Fairfax Ave. for more than five years has seen the decline in patronage first hand, but didn’t know that selling such items broke municipal code, although the code doesn’t apply to Centerfold because it has an indoor portion to the stand.
He blamed the economy and the Internet as culprits for the reduced sales, but he has seen other newsstands across the city vending the same items.
“The Internet is killing us,” Portillo said.
“Smaller newsstands need to sell something other than magazines and newspapers in order to survive,” said Hershey Weisman, owner of the World Book and News newsstand. “Discounts from distributors are down across the board and we are selling less. So we are making less and less on everything we sell, and selling less on top of that.”
Weisman’s newsstand has been a family business since his parents purchased the stand in the mid-1970s. In one of his father’s first actions after purchasing the property, he opened the stand fot 24-hours, an action his son has begun to consider changing.
“We are actually looking at closing some nights, although there is still a lot of foot traffic, mostly from the [nearby] bars,” Weisman said. “But what they are doing is not buying stuff, but trying to steal. Business is down across the board from our heyday. From our biggest figures in the mid ‘80s, we are probably off 40 percent.”
Henry Velasquez, an employee at Above the Fold, at 226 Larchmont Blvd., said the mornings are often hectic at the newsstand with people purchasing items while he puts out new inventory and continuously organizes the racks.
Changes to the code could help Above the Fold, Velsquez said, “because you would have other things to sell.”
At World Book, McNally said she greets regular customers everyday, and can often be spotted running across Cahuenga Boulevard to deliver copies of newspapers or magazines to customers she has known for years.
“People just like having that print in their hands,” McNally said.
If the proposed change to municipal code is accepted by the city council, the city attorney would then be asked to draft an amended ordinance to allow for the sale of such items. Policies in San Francisco, San Diego, Boston and New York will be considered while reviewing newsstand policies. The amended ordinance would be applicable only to newsstands that are erected parallel and adjacent to the wall of a building, and are located within a portion of the public right-of-way.
“Newsstands are an iconic and historic part of American life – like Norman Rockwell and the Saturday Evening Post,” LaBonge added. “They create a village-like, pedestrian-friendly atmosphere in a neighborhood. Vendors can give directions, and their presence on the street can help with public safety. We’re going to preserve that while updating the city code that regulates them.”
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